Sky’s fourth-quarter struggles compounded by mental hurdle of ‘punching back’

Whether it’s unforced turnovers or a stretch of missed shots, the Sky have had a hard time recovering from in-game adversity.

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Sky interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever.

‘‘That’s the thing: You get a punch, you have to punch back,’’ interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever said of the Sky’s fourth-quarter woes.

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The eighth-place Sky are near the bottom of the 12-team WNBA in many of the major statistical categories.

They are 10th in rebounds, steals and turnovers, 11th in points and last in free-throw percentage. And when it comes to the fourth quarter, things go from bad to worse.

The Sky (8-11) are averaging a league-worst 17.3 points in the final 10 minutes of games. Their number of steals falls to 11th and their number of assists — the one category they’ve maintained success in throughout the season — drops from fourth to 11th in the fourth quarter.

Against the Dream on Friday and Sunday, their fourth-quarter performance was the breaking point in both losses. The fact is, their late-game blunders have been their Achilles’ heel all season.

‘‘It’s focus, really,’’ forward Elizabeth Williams said. ‘‘Not letting teams dictate in the fourth quarter. We have to make sure we’re not playing on our heels. We do such a good job of fighting back a lot of times, and the key is just keeping that momentum.’’

The Sky have trailed entering the fourth quarter in nine of their 11 losses. They twice have rallied to win when trailing after three quarters, overcoming a nine-point deficit against the Liberty and a five-pointer against the Fever. They also have lost two games in which they led going into the fourth — against the Liberty and Fever, coincidentally.

The Sky’s issue is less about fighting back and more about an inability to sustain success through all four quarters.

‘‘That’s the thing: You get a punch, you have to punch back,’’ interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever said. ‘‘Atlanta punched better in [the fourth quarter], and we didn’t respond as we needed to respond. We’re going to see if we’re going to respond [Wednesday against the Sun].’’

The Sun (14-5) have the third-best net rating in the WNBA; the Sky are ninth.

After taking a one-point lead into the second quarter in their last game against the Sun, the Sky slowly derailed as the game progressed, allowing Alyssa Thomas to notch a triple-double.

‘‘There’s not a lot that separates three from 12, honestly,’’ Williams said of the standings. ‘‘So it’s just a matter of making winning plays and making good decisions to add to the game.’’

On Sunday against the Dream, the Sky seemed to run out of winning plays. After Kahleah Copper scored 16 of the Sky’s 34 points in the third quarter, she was held scoreless on only two shots in the fourth. The Sky shot 27.8% and scored only 10 points in the final quarter. The Dream, meanwhile, shot 38% and scored 20 points in the fourth.

All Vatansever could say after the game was that they were unable to find Copper. He repeated that sentiment Tuesday.

To Williams’ point, there aren’t overwhelming statistical gaps between the teams at the top of the league and those at the bottom. But the Sky continue to struggle to overcome the mental hurdles that arise.

Whether it’s unforced turnovers or a stretch of missed shots, the Sky have had a hard time recovering from in-game adversity.

‘‘We can only do certain things [as a coaching staff],’’ Vatansever said. ‘‘We can call timeout. We can stop a run. We can talk to them. But at the end of the day, we all have to be together with the same mindset and just punch back.’’

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