Sky’s second-half comeback falls short in 71-69 loss to Mystics

Marina Mabrey led the Sky with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists.

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Before the buzzer marking the end of halftime sounded, Sky star Kahleah Copper gathered her teammates at the free-throw line.

Her message was inaudible to anyone outside that huddle, but her emphatic tone was apparent. She clapped her hands together as she spoke, looking around at the eight faces looking back at her. Seconds later, the ball was inbounded, and the Sky picked up the Mystics with full-court defense.

The Sky controlled the game defensively in the second half, but a late three-pointer by Elena Delle Donne was the go-ahead basket in the Mystics’ 71-69 victory in the Sky’s home opener Friday at Wintrust Arena. It was the Sky’s first loss in three games.

‘‘We wanted to throw the first punch in the third quarter,’’ Copper said.

They didn’t throw the first punch, but they didn’t let the one Mystics threw knock them to the floor.

The Mystics opened a 16-point lead in the third quarter, but the Sky cut the deficit to six with a 10-0 run in less than two minutes. When a mid-range jumper from Marina Mabrey cut the Sky’s deficit to four, Mystics coach Eric Thibault decided he had seen enough and called a timeout.

The Sky forced six turnovers and came up with two steals in the third quarter. They also controlled the boards, allowing the Mystics only one second-chance look in the quarter.

‘‘[We wanted to] chip away,’’ Copper said. ‘‘We never thought we were out of the game. We had this togetherness and this pride that we were going to get into the game.’’

The score was tied at 66 and the Sky had the ball with just more than 30 seconds left when Rebekah Gardner fell to the floor in pain under the basket. The Mystics gained possession, which led to Delle Donne’s go-ahead three-pointer on the other end.

Gardner had to be helped off the floor by the Sky’s training staff.

Coach/general manager James Wade went with a small lineup out of the halftime break. With Alanna Smith in foul trouble and Morgan Bertsch on the bench with an apparent ankle injury suffered in the second quarter, he didn’t really have a choice.

‘‘No updates now,’’ Wade said. ‘‘[Gardner and Bertsch are] with the team doctors. I saw both of them, but no updates I can share.’’

If there was ever a moment for Sky fans to make a statement of support for this new-look team, it was for the home opener. Courtney Williams had two tying three-pointers in the second half that brought the 7,304 fans in attendance to their feet.

Williams finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Mabrey led the Sky with 19 points, and Copper added 12.

Wade’s perfect challenge record remained intact when he used his third of the season to challenge a foul call on Elizabeth Williams late in the fourth quarter. The call was overturned, and Williams was awarded her second block of the night, moving her past Tina Thompson and into 14th place on the WNBA’s all-time blocks list. Williams had nine points, three rebounds and two blocks.

Delle Donne’s mystique in Chicago has disappeared — or so said the Sky’s players. She played her first four WNBA seasons for the Sky (2013-16) but hadn’t played in Chicago since 2019.

Either way, Delle Donne’s return to the city in which she earned three All-Star nods, made a trip to the WNBA Finals (2014) and won her first MVP (2015) carried no weight with the members of the Sky’s current roster.

‘‘We haven’t even thought about that,’’ Gardner said before the game.

Delle Donne, however, asserted her dominance by finishing with a game-high 25 points. She shot 10-for-17 from the field, including 3-for-5 from three-point range.

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