New-look Sky open season with road victory, thanks to strong defensive performance

As a team, the Sky came up with 14 steals, four of them courtesy of Rebekah Gardner, and eight blocks. They converted 21 turnovers by the Lynx into 17 points.

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AP

MINNEAPOLIS — There was really no way to know what to expect from the Sky in their season opener Friday.

With an almost entirely new roster and a three-week training camp during which the whole team rarely was able to practice together, anything could have happened. On one hand, there was the potential for total disaster; on the other, it was possible the new-look Sky team might impress.

In their 77-66 victory against the Lynx, the Sky did more than impress. They put on a show, opening a 19-point lead at one point.

‘‘It’s our first game, so the rhythm needed to catch up with us,’’ coach/general manager James Wade said. ‘‘The cohesion was there; we just had to find our footing. I felt that we would settle down and get going because their intensity and desire were there.’’

In the opening minutes, the Sky looked dazed and confused. They fell behind 6-0 after three turnovers and overall disjointed play on offense. Instead of opting to call a timeout, however, Wade let his team play through it.

The Sky began to find a rhythm midway through the first quarter, led by Kahleah Copper — who finished with a game-high 20 points and seven rebounds — and Elizabeth Williams. That allowed them to set the tone defensively and remain patient as their offense came around.

‘‘Nobody had their head down,’’ Copper said of the Sky’s early struggles. ‘‘Nobody cracked. We kept coming together. Courtney [Williams] kept saying: ‘It’s going to settle in. Let’s just keep playing together, keep going hard.’ It says a lot about the group and what we’re trying to build as our identity.’’

Elizabeth Williams has established herself as one of the WNBA elite rim protectors. She showed why by coming up with two blocks and six rebounds to go with her 14 points.

Her first block was a ‘‘welcome to the league’’ moment against Lynx rookie Diamond Miller in the first quarter. Her second came after a foul call was overturned when Wade used the WNBA’s first coaching challenge of the season.

‘‘I was not going to challenge that play,’’ Wade said. ‘‘I saw [Williams], and when she did [the finger twirl], it was my first relationship trust moment with her. She passed, so now she’s on my good side with the trust factor.’’

As a team, the Sky came up with 14 steals, four of them courtesy of Rebekah Gardner, and eight blocks. They converted 21 turnovers by the Lynx into 17 points.

Wade went with Morgan Bertsch in the starting lineup over Alanna Smith in place injured Isabelle Harrison (left knee), and Marina Mabrey got the start at point guard over Dana Evans. Smith showed she might belong in the starting five by finishing with 15 points, four rebounds and three blocks.

Wade didn’t provide a definitive answer about whether his starting lineup will change as the season progresses. Instead, he emphasized his belief the Sky will be fine, regardless of which players come off the bench.

The first look at the Sky’s rebuilt roster indicated it was far from perfect. At times, things were downright ugly. But they were playing a team in the midst of an even more drastic rebuild. Against a better team, the Sky aren’t going to get away with the same turnovers and the open looks they allowed. (The Lynx shot a dismal 6-for-24 from three-point range.)

Still, the Sky made it clear on opening night that their defense will tell the story of their season. What kind of a story it will be is up to them.

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