Sky reached a new level in the first round; now it’s about sustaining
The Sky’s entire roster has WNBA championship experience with the exception of Julie Allemand and Rebekah Gardner, and nearly all of the players gained that experience together.
Shortly after the final buzzer sounded in the Sky’s 90-72 Game 3 victory against the New York Liberty, Kahleah Copper made her way into the Barclays Center crowd.
The 2021 WNBA Finals MVP climbed about 20 rows towards a section behind the Sky’s bench that was filled with over 45 friends and family members from north Philadelphia.
In a moment of pure joy, having helped secure her team’s spot in the semifinals for the second consecutive year, Copper was exactly where she wanted to be.
“Shout out to the executive of the year, who probably paid for the extra [tickets],” Copper said as she put her arm around coach/general manager James Wade, who was sitting next to her in the postgame news conference.
The Sky followed up Wade’s executive honors by picking up the options on the contract he signed in 2021, locking him in through the 2025 season. Considering the position Wade has this Sky team in, it was a wise decision by the Sky front office to shore up his future with the team.
Wade’s team has talked a lot about reaching a new level.
After finishing the regular season tying the Las Vegas Aces with the best record in the league, one began to wonder if that was true or just another cliche teams share so they don’t appear relaxed.
What the Sky displayed in the regular season was everything they wanted. But there were still games where they appeared far from complete.
They dropped two games to the Aces plus the Commissioner’s Cup. They went 2-1 against the fourth-seeded Seattle Storm and 3-3 in the last two weeks of the regular season, including a loss to the sixth-seeded Dallas Wings at home.
It all brought into question how realistic their goal of repeating as champions really was. Their Game 1 loss to the Liberty, blowing a six-point lead with under six minutes to play, only compounded the concerns.
But in Game 2, they didn’t just reach that new level they had talked about, they blew past it. The Sky’s fourth-quarter performance in Game 3 on the road in Brooklyn confirmed they are operating in a new gear. As the Liberty cut the Sky’s 10-point lead to three in under a minute to start the fourth quarter, Wade’s team didn’t panic, rather they became more composed.
They tightened up on defense, forced turnovers, grabbed defensive rebounds and knocked down momentum-shifting shots. And they did it all in front of a deafening crowd.
The Sky’s entire roster has WNBA championship experience with the exception of Julie Allemand and Rebekah Gardner, and nearly all of them gained that championship experience together. This team’s understanding of what it takes to win tight games is one of the most significant threats to opponents.
In those early minutes of the fourth quarter, a previous version of this team might have run out of gas. This version of the Sky, the one that has tapped into that new level they talked all season about, caught fire.
Now it’s about seeing how long they can keep it burning.
“We saw a flash of the team we want to be consistently,” Copper said. “With the experience we have, what we felt in those [Game 2 and Game 3] moments, that’s the team we want to be.”