Elizabeth Williams is the embodiment of Sky’s defensive identity

After every game, coach James Wade awards a WWE title belt to the player with the most deflections. On Friday night, it belonged to Elizabeth Williams.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Sky coach/general manager James Wade stood at center court with his hands on his knees, encouraging his team not to let up.

The shot clock was winding down on the Minnesota Lynx, and as it inched closer to running out, Wade’s energy intensified. On the court, the Sky matched Wade’s ferocity. As the Lynx heaved a shot that missed the rim entirely, the sound of the shot clock expiring appeared to be music to the ears of a team committed to building its identity defensively.

“We were very disruptive and disciplined,” Wade said. “We got a lot of deflections and were able to make them uncomfortable. That’s what we work on. We were there for each other and had each other’s back. We didn’t leave anybody out on an island.”

The Sky’s 14 steals and eight blocks failed to paint the complete picture of their smothering style. Forward Elizabeth Williams set the tone early.

Her two blocks were impressive and came at decisive moments, and her 14 points were vital. But the real story of Williams’ game and what it will mean to the Sky this season came in certain unquantifiable moments. Her defensive reads allowed her to manipulate Minnesota’s posts in one-on-one scenarios or recovering on the help side.

Deflections are not an official stat in the WNBA, but that’s not the case for the Sky. After every game, Wade awards a WWE title belt to the player with the most deflections. On Friday night, it belonged to Williams.

“Her defensive presence is amazing,” Wade said. “You have her out there smothering guards and our guards defending against posts, getting in passing lanes. We have players that are going to give their best and make sure they have [Williams’] back because they know she has their back on the defensive end.”

The game was Williams’ first since entering concussion protocols after the Sky’s preseason game against the Indiana Fever. It was her first concussion, so the medical staff was confident that all she needed was some time to rest. There are five stages to the league’s concussion protocols, and as long as a player continues to progress, she typically is reintroduced to basketball activities after a week.

Williams said she’s back at full strength. Her performance indicated as much.

The league’s 2016 Most Improved Player and a 2020 All-Defensive team member was arguably Wade’s most significant free-agent signing. Of course, trading for guard Marina Mabrey made a splash, but Williams is an established veteran with a proven track record.

Hours ahead of the opener, Williams said she felt no pressure, only excitement for the season ahead. That seemed to be the emotion felt by the entire team. After the first few minutes, the Sky settled into a loose style that lent itself well to Wade’s free-flowing systems. They had 23 assists on 31 made field goals.

It’s apparent the Sky still have a lot of work to do in getting accustomed to each other. Certain passes in transition and lobs into the post were off the mark, but the Sky feel good about where they’re at.

“We landed a lot of those transition passes that we didn’t land in the preseason,” guard Kahleah Copper said. “When we talk about that 1% better every day, that’s that 1% right there. We can only get better.”

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