Sky’s fourth-quarter run pushes them past Liberty and into WNBA semifinals
Six Sky players finished in double figures, and Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot had double-doubles.
NEW YORK — There was a sense of déjà vu in the final quarter of Tuesday’s decisive Game 3 between the Sky and the New York Liberty.
With her team trailing by 10, Sabrina Ionescu opened the final 10 minutes of play hitting an and-one. She missed her free-throw attempt but scrambled to get her own offensive rebound and followed it with a three. Just like that, the Sky’s lead was cut to five and then three after Betnijah Laney hit a nine-foot jump shot off the assist from Ionescu.
The Liberty’s 7-0 run mirrored their 13-0 fourth-quarter run in Game 1. This time, the Sky didn’t panic, they responded like reigning champs, securing their spot in the semifinals with a 90-72 Game 3 win.
“We looked at each other and said we got this,” Allie Quigley said. “We knew this is the moment. We have to get better here and stop this momentum.”
The Sky did stop the Liberty’s momentum by stringing together key defensive stops and a 16-0 run of their own.
Sandy Brondello emphasized the importance of her team clogging the paint, but it made no difference for the Sky. They found their points inside, finishing with 46 points in the paint.
Parker and Courtney Vandersloot led the way with double-doubles. Parker finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds and Vandersloot with 14 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. Kahleah Copper had 15 points and Azurá Stevens added 12 and eight rebounds.
With six minutes to play the Sky held a nine-point lead. Two minutes later they had extended it to 19 finding easy points inside and Quigley at the three-point line. She went 2-for-3 from deep in the fourth quarter, finishing with 15 points and three rebounds.
Six Sky players finished scoring in double figures. This season, James Wade’s team had two major goals: to finish the regular season on top and to win back-to-back titles.
They checked their first goal off the list after tying the Las Vegas Aces with the best record (26-10) in the WNBA, a new franchise-best. It was a stark difference from their championship season, which had them carrying a 16-16 record into the postseason.
By all accounts, the reigning champion Sky should have taken care of the No. 7 Liberty in two games on their home court. But, they opened the series unlike a team ready to contend for back-to-back titles. The urgency was absent.
“What took a hit [after Game 1] is the spirit in which we won last year,” Parker said. “That wasn’t the way we played. We didn’t play as hungry as we did the year before.”
The loss forced the Sky into a must-win Game 2 on their homecourt and Tuesday night’s do-or-die Game 3 in Brooklyn. The league’s new playoff format features a best-of-three first round that gives the higher seed home-court advantage in the first two games before moving to the lower seed’s market for the last game, if necessary.
For the Sky, it was necessary.
En route to Barclays Center, Coach/general manager James Wade said his team was locked in. From the front of the team’s charter bus he couldn’t hear music or chatter, just silence, the sound of a team focused on the mission, winning.
That same focus helped them sustain the Liberty’s fourth-quarter run and respond stronger.
“We stayed poised,” Copper said. “Everybody was lazer focused. There was nothing to talk about, nothing to joke about. That was the vibe coming over here. Once we got here, everybody was locked in on what they needed to do.”
This year, the Sky have played like a championship contender all season. The bull’s-eye on their back comes with the territory when you’re the defending champion.
As a result of a top-tier regular season, the Sky haven’t felt like there’s a new level to reach necessarily, but rather aspects of their game that need to be cleaned up. Game 2 and Game 3 proved they do have another level to reach and are beginning to tap into it.
The Sky will meet the winner of Wednesday’s Game 3 between the Connecticut Sun and Dallas Wings in Game 1 of the semifinals on Sunday at 7PM.