The Sky have their work cut out in the semifinals.
Coach/GM James Wade’s team beat the Connecticut Sun four times in the regular season and have beaten them in six consecutive games dating to last year’s semis. But the postseason is a new season, as the Sky have stressed all year.
They need to carry over a sense of urgency from their first-round victory over the New York Liberty in which they lost Game 1. If they open against the Sun in the same fashion, they could find themselves in an irreparable hole.
“Be ready,” Emma Meesseman said when asked about lessons from their series against the Liberty that can be applied in the semis. “If we can avoid the extra games, we want to do it.”
Avoiding the pressure of playing with their backs to the wall will serve the Sky well in this series, especially considering the huge task that awaits in the Finals if they’re successful.
The semifinal between the Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm is going to be a dogfight, as 2022 coach of the year Becky Hammon of the Aces aptly described it. The series features a record seven No. 1 overall picks.
The Sky went 2-4 against the Storm and Aces during the regular season, beating each team once.
The other series likely will go the distance, providing an advantage for the Sky if they’re able to close out theirs in fewer than five games. To do that, the Sky will need everyone, an uncertainty heading into Game 1.
Kahleah Copper returned to practice Saturday after missing Friday with a non-COVID-related illness, but Ruthy Hebard is listed as questionable. Wade said Hebard also had a non-COVID illness but did not respond when asked for a timeline for her return.
Hebard is only averaging 5.8 minutes and didn’t play in one of the Sky’s three first-round games. But her absence whittles the Sky’s roster to nine players after Li Yueru returned to the Chinese national team before the playoffs even began.
In each of their four regular-season victories against the Sun, a different player led the Sky in scoring. They must maintain that multifaceted attack and force the Sun to defend them in a variety of ways.
Practice has focused on video and tactical game-planning. The Sun have a size advantage inside, but Wade’s team can exploit them with their speed. Limiting turnovers and winning the rebounding battle will be important keys in trying to finish off the Sun as quickly as possible.
At this point in the season, though, the biggest emphasis has been on their mental approach.
“It’s going to be who wants it more,” Azurá Stevens said. “There’s not a lot of stuff strategy-wise that’s going to make a difference. It’s about who is bringing the most effort.”
The Sky’s brush with a lack of effort in Game 1 against the Liberty is still fresh on their minds. But is it enough to spark their sense of urgency in Game 1 on Sunday? We shall see.