Sky look to extend success in elimination games

The victory in Game 2 against the Liberty was the Sky’s third in a row facing elimination dating to back-to-back single-elimination games last postseason.

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NEW YORK — Do-or-die games bring out the best of James Wade’s Sky. 

Facing elimination Saturday, they routed the Liberty by 38 points, setting a WNBA record for the largest margin of victory in the postseason. That surpassed the record set by the 2021 Sky, who beat the Mercury by 36 in Game 3 of the Finals. 

The victory was the Sky’s third in a row facing elimination, dating to back-to-back single-elimination games last year against the Wings in the first round and the Lynx in the second. 

They’ll have to do it again Tuesday at the Barclays Center in the decisive Game 3 against the Liberty. 

“It’s been really important that we stay connected and stay bonded,” Wade said. “In those do-or-die moments, if we know the importance they carry, we’ll be successful if we fight to stay together.” 

Game 2 was a team effort. It started with Kahleah Copper getting hot and was amplified by a double-double from Candace Parker and a near double-double from Courtney Vandersloot. Emma Meesseman held the Liberty’s second-leading scorer, Natasha Howard, to eight points. The Sky’s smothering defense neutralized the Liberty’s leading scorer, Sabrina Ionescu, who finished with seven points, five rebounds and three assists. 

All season, the Sky have responded well to losses, but this response was different. It sent a message that the six-point lead the Sky blew during clutch time in Game 1 was not a reflection of how they intend to go out. 

“After any loss, you want the next game to come,” Copper said Saturday. “We came back together the very next day [after Game 1] and talked. It was very special. After we left each other, everybody felt a lot better.” 

The WNBA defines clutch time as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or fewer. The Sky controlled these minutes during the regular season, leading the league in clutch points, field goals made, rebounds, assists and steals. 

Four Sky players are in the top 10 in the league in clutch points this season. Vandersloot is third (57), Parker is fifth (44), Copper is sixth (42) and Meesseman is tied for 10th (33) with Aces guard Chelsea Gray. 

The stats support the case the Sky made after Game 2 that Game 1 is not who they are. Still, the loss cost them home-court advantage in Game 3, which goes to the lower seed in the WNBA’s new playoff format. 

The winner advances to play either the Sun or Wings in the semifinals. After the Wings stole a game from the Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, that series will be decided in Game 3 on Wednesday in Dallas. Meanwhile, the Aces and Storm advanced to the semifinals, winning two straight against the Mercury and Mystics, respectively. 

There was no sign of concern from the Sky as they fielded questions about what it’s going to take to ensure their title defense doesn’t end in the first round. They haven’t been reigning champs before, but they have faced elimination before. 

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