Kahleah Copper has her foot on the clutch

Her late-game heroics have Sky in contention for final berth

Kahleah Copper

Sky guard Kahleah Copper shoots next to Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson, right, during the first half of a WNBA basketball game Tuesday, July 25, 2023, in Chicago.

Erin Hooley/AP

If there was one moment from the season that illustrates Kahleah Copper’s importance to the Sky, it came during the victory against the Sparks on Tuesday night.

Trailing by one with 27 seconds remaining in a game with serious playoff implications, Copper, who was being tightly guarded by Jordin Canada, called for the ball at the top of the key. In a flash, Canada was on the floor and Copper was speeding to the rim for the game-winning layup.

“When you have people depending on you, you have to rise to the occasion,” Copper said. “You have to show up and it’s not about the points. It’s not about what the box score says. It’s about when [the Sparks’] Karlie Samuelson hit a big three and I tell the team, ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to get it back.’ ”

Before panic could set in, Copper took the game into her own hands and ended it. That has been the story of the Sky’s last two road wins that have them a half-game behind the Sparks for the eighth and final playoff spot.

The game-winning drive Tuesday is just one of a number of plays this season that point to the importance of Copper when the game is on the line. Another was the go-ahead three from the corner off an assist from Dana Evans on Sunday.

A significant focus of Copper’s offseason preparation was shoring up her ability to score on all three levels. This year, Copper is shooting 37.9% from behind the arc, her best three-point shooting percentage since her rookie season when she attempted only one per game.

According to ESPN Stats, the Sparks had a 76% chance of making the postseason entering the game Tuesday. The Sky’s win dropped that percentage to 47% and improved their own chances to 55.2%.

In their remaining four games, the Sky will need to replicate the same late-game composure displayed against the Storm and the Sparks during this pivotal road trip.

“We were tested a lot on this trip,” Marina Mabrey said. “We got down. We got up and lost leads. We came back and then let

[Seattle] score again. Getting experience and every game growing into what we want to do. I feel like just being tested and being able to go out and know that we passed a few tests [gives us confidence].”

The win gives the Sky (15-21) the tiebreaker against the Sparks (15-20). The Sparks have two games remaining against the Storm, and one against the Mystics, Sun and Liberty. The Sky play the Liberty, Fever, Lynx and Sun.

If the Sky go 2-2 to close the season, they would need the Sparks to lose at least three games to take the eighth playoff spot. If the Sky fail to make the postseason they will be sending a 2024 lottery pick to the Wings that potentially could be the No. 1 overall pick.

“The pressure is on,” Copper said. “It’s pressure for the organization, not just us. It’s important for us to get into the playoffs and not potentially give something away that could come out if we don’t.”

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