As the WNBA works its way through end-of-season awards, Tuesday’s announcement of All-Defensive teams — arriving three days earlier than expected — hit like an anvil.
Aces forward A’ja Wilson was named Defensive Player of the Year, receiving 20 votes from a panel of 56 national sportswriters. Sun forward Alyssa Thomas finished second with 14 votes, and Storm forward Breanna Stewart third with 13.
But on the all-defensive first and second teams, not a single Sky player was selected, and Thomas was chosen for the second team despite finishing ahead of Stewart in Player of the Year voting.
The Sun finished second in the league in defensive rating during the regular season, while the Sky, their semifinal playoff opponents, finished fourth.
The Sky, one of the most balanced teams in the WNBA statistically, don’t have players jumping off the page defensively the way the Aces and Storm do, but Candace Parker led the league in defensive rebounds per game, and Kahleah Copper’s off-ball defense was relentless as she defended opponents’ best offensive players along with fellow guard/forward Rebekah Gardner. Forward Emma Meesseman was an early candidate for Defensive Player of the Year because of her perimeter defense.
“I’m just happy to have all these non-defensive team players on our team,” Sky coach and general manager James Wade said. “It’s great.”
Sun forward Jonquel Jones joined Thomas on the second team. Thomas was second in steals per game behind Sparks guard Brittney Sykes. Jones was seventh in blocks per game and defensive rebounds.
In Game 1 on Sunday, the Sky held the Sun to 37.3% shooting from the field and 23.1% from three-point range. Wade was pleased with the defensive effort but expected more offensively.
Spacing was a point of emphasis in practice early this week. The Sky shot 24-for-68 (35%) and missed 17 shots in the paint Sunday, including seven in the fourth quarter. Forward/center Azura Stevens was 1-for-7 from the field and Gardner 1-for-4. The Sky averaged 11.6 fast-break points during the regular season but were held to six Sunday.
The clutch touch?
Going back to last fall, the Sky have been excellent with their backs against the wall. They won two single-elimination games before advancing past the Sun in the 2021 semifinals, beginning with a Game 1 win on the road. They also opened the Finals against the Mercury with a win on the road.
But they have failed to defend their home court in the first game of both series this postseason. Against the Liberty, they needed to win out to avoid elimination.