Ahead of the Sky’s series opener Sunday against the Sun, coach/general manager James Wade said his team had a different level of focus than it did the week before.
He was referencing the Sky’s Game 1 loss to the Liberty on their home court in which the Sky give up a six-point lead with three minutes to play, missing 10 of their last 11 shots in the process. In the series-opening loss to the Sun, Wade’s team played with urgency, but it lacked production.
Only three players finished scoring in double figures. Candace Parker led the way with 19 points, Kahleah Copper had 13 and Emma Meesseman 10. The Sky’s five other players who took the floor combined for 21.
The Sun executed their defensive game plan, which was to “play messy,” according to coach/GM Curt Miller. They converted 12 Sky turnovers into 20 points and outrebounded the Sky 47-36.
All season, the Sky have proved to be a team that responds well to adversity. They went 35 games before losing back-to-back games in the regular season and responded to their Game 1 loss to the Liberty with two convincing performances.
The semifinals are different, though. For starters, the Sun are a top-three team in the league, and they carry a grudge. After being knocked out by the Sky in the semifinals last season 3-1 and losing all four meetings in the regular season, this series is personal to the Sun.
The Sun are playing a lot like the Sky did during the postseason last year — like a team with nothing to lose. In pursuit of their first title, the Sun have been forthcoming about expected changes to their roster in the offseason. Four players will become unrestricted free agents, including Brionna Jones and Courtney Williams. Natisha Hiedeman will be a restricted free agent.
“We know this team won’t be together next year,” DeWanna Bonner said after Game 1. “Contracts are up. We want to be here now. Everybody is focused on the present. The way we are playing, the confidence we have in each other, our defense, we’re just playing. We’re in the moment.”
As fans saw last year, that type of motivation can do a lot to spark a title run.
Sky need more from ‘Sloot’
The Sun did a great job of disrupting the Sky’s offense, but Courtney Vandersloot specifically was neutralized. She finished with five points on 2-for-8 shooting and had just two assists.
Last year, Vandersloot averaged a double-double in the postseason (13 points, 10.2 assists). Against the Sun, she recorded the second postseason triple-double in WNBA history in the series opener in Uncasville, Connecticut. If the Sky are going to extend this series, they need more from their floor general.
The Storm and Sun upset the home team in the first game of their series, marking the third time in WNBA history that both road teams won the semifinal opener. According to ESPN, teams that won Game 1 of a best-of-five series have gone on to win eight of 12 series in WNBA history.
The 2021 Sky are one of those eight teams. To prevent the Sun from joining that list, the Sky need to have a similar Game 2 response that they had in the first round. It starts with controlling the style and pace of play.
“You have to enforce your will and make the game be played the way you want it to be,” Allie Quigley said.