Playoff loss leaves Sky wondering ‘what if’

As the Connecticut Sun and Las Vegas Aces play for the WNBA title, all that’s left for the Sky to do is look back on what might have been.

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The Sky’s Kahleah Copper and other players walk off the court after the Connecticut Sun’s 72-63 victory in Game 5 of the 2022 WNBA semifinals at Wintrust Arena.

The Sky’s Kahleah Copper and other players walk off the court after the Connecticut Sun’s 72-63 victory in Game 5 of the 2022 WNBA semifinals at Wintrust Arena.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Sky should be in Las Vegas.

Based on the way coach and general manager James Wade constructed the team — which blew through the regular season, sweeping the Sun in the process — the Sky should be playing the Aces for a chance to win back-to-back titles.

But none of that matters now. All that does is how they played in the final 10 minutes of Game 5 of the WNBA semifinals. In front of their home crowd, a crowd that Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley watched grow from hundreds to thousands during their Sky careers, they fell apart.

The team with the highest field-goal percentage in the league during the regular season scored just five points while the Sun scored 24. All that’s left are questions of what could’ve been.

“We could have won that game,” Vandersloot said. “We were in control of that game.”

The Sky had an 11-point lead, their largest of the night, with seven minutes left. Then they went cold. Vandersloot committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter, uncharacteristic of the Sky’s leader who had earned the nickname “Queen of the Fourth” in the regular season.

It wasn’t until the Sky trailed by seven with 20 seconds left that Wade called time out.

“Hindsight is always 20/20,” Wade said during exit interviews. “It’s part of coaching to make decisions and roll with them. One thing I pride myself on is being courageous and going with what I think is best. After, I can’t look back.”

But as the Sun and Aces continue the WNBA Finals, all that’s left for the Sky to do is look back.

Most haven’t rewatched Game 5 yet, and some won’t. Rebekah Gardner couldn’t sleep after the loss Thursday and decided to watch it. What she saw was a lot of little moments that cost them the game.

The truth is, the Sky never should have let the series go to five games, and they knew that. During an in-game interview with ESPN’s Ros Gold-Onwude, Kahleah Copper said her team was facing a Game 5 because of little mistakes they made throughout the series.

Candace Parker had a historic Game 1 with 19 points, 18 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and four steals, but the Sky couldn’t pull away in the fourth quarter.

After taking Game 3 on the road, the Sky got demolished in Game 4. There was no life in them, and the Sun took advantage.

Maybe it was the wear and tear of completing a franchise-best 26-10 regular season that left the Sky grasping for winning plays. Maybe it was a lack of in-game adjustments late in Game 5 that allowed the Sun to complete their revenge tour and return to the Finals for the first time since 2019.

Vandersloot said during the team’s exit interviews that it wasn’t because of a lack of trying. The players gave everything they had.

That might be the toughest pill they have to swallow. Everything this team had wasn’t enough to send it back to the Finals.

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