Liberty snap Sky’s six-game winning streak
Candace Parker had a double-double for the second consecutive game with 21 points and 11 rebounds and passed Tamika Catchings for fourth place on the WNBA’s all-time rebounding list.
NEW YORK — The Sky’s Rebekah Gardner is no rookie, but her lack of experience in the WNBA defines her that way.
Playing their second game in as many days Saturday, the Sky cut a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to one when general manager/coach James Wade brought Gardner off the bench. Moments later, she scored the go-ahead layup after stealing a pass intended for Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu.
It was a play that showed the experience she has playing against some of the top players in the WNBA for 10 years overseas and the hustle that has her in conversations for the WNBA’s All-Defensive team.
Gardner and Ionescu exchanged buckets and game-changing plays for much of the game. But Ionescu made perhaps the biggest play of the night by finishing at the rim and drawing a foul on Gardner with nine seconds left. Ionescu sank the free throw to give the Liberty a one-point lead.
Candace Parker missed a layup with 1.8 seconds left that would have given the Sky the lead, and the Liberty escaped with an 83-80 victory that snapped the Sky’s six-game winning streak. Ionescu led the Liberty with 17 points, eight in the fourth quarter.
‘‘She went up and might have bodied me a little bit,’’ Gardner said of Ionescu. ‘‘I have to do a better job of being exaggerated with my hands up. Plays like that happen.’’
Parker had a second consecutive double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds and passed Tamika Catchings for fourth place on the WNBA’s all-time rebounding list. Kahleah Copper added 17 points and Gardner 16 points and four steals.
Playing back-to-back games is less than ideal under any circumstances, but in the WNBA — which has its teams flying commercial and features an average roster size of 11 players — it’s a risk to players’ health.
After getting their 21st victory Friday against the Wings at Wintrust Arena, the Sky (21-7) were on their way to O’Hare Airport about seven hours later for a 6 a.m. flight. The flight ended up being delayed more than an hour by a severe thunderstorm and ended up departing after 8 a.m.
Delays are frustrating at any time, but the fact that the Sky had to be ready to go at Barclays Center for a 6 p.m. tipoff exacerbated their issues.
The team’s training staff said routine is important in back-to-back scenarios, so pregame meals and warmups remained the same. But there was no time for rest.
Still, the Sky aimed to focus on controlling what they could, and that was their play. But they were far from their best, shooting 37% from the field and 12.5% (3-for-24) from three point range. Their season averages are 48.3% and 35.3%, respectively.
They stayed within striking distance because of their defense, getting 12 steals (almost double their per-game average) and scoring 27 points off Liberty turnovers.
‘‘There was a stretch in the fourth where we really got after it,’’ Copper said. ‘‘We buckled down because our offense wasn’t going. We had to turn up our defense.’’
Point guard Courtney Vandersloot missed her fourth consecutive game in the concussion protocol. Wade said she is progressing well but had no timetable for her return.