Truth bomb: Sky are up against it heading into Game 2 against the underdog Liberty
The pressure is on the WNBA’s defending champs, who presumably aren’t all that eager to find themselves on the business end of what would be one of the biggest postseason upsets in league history.
There was nothing to see Friday at Sky practice in Deerfield. Nothing to see at all.
Especially not another highly concerning moment for All-Star guard Kahleah Copper, who definitely didn’t crumble to the floor in agony, clutching the area of her right ankle, just as she had in Game 1 against the Liberty and less than 24 hours before the Sky’s must-win Game 2.
At least, that’s what coach and general manager James Wade told the handful of media members who absolutely, positively hadn’t seen the whole thing unfold approximately the distance of a three-point shot from where they were standing.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Wade said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, so … ”
So … does that mean Copper will be in the lineup Saturday morning at Wintrust Arena when the defending champions, in an unexpected 1-0 hole in a best-of-three series, try to avoid a first-round face-plant unbefitting of a team that tied for the best record in the WNBA at 26-10 during the regular season?
“Nothing happened,” Wade said.
Right. Because it’s not like we saw anything.
Oh, wait. Come to think of it, we did.
This silly, unnecessary back-and-forth went on for a while, with Wade alternating between “She’s fine” and “We’re fine” until it almost began to sound as if things were — wait for it — fine. Except that they’re not, not if Copper, an explosive talent without whom the Sky might not be able to escape the first round, let alone make a real run at repeating, at some point is forced to watch from the sideline.
The Sky put out an injury report later on Friday that didn’t have Copper’s name on it, a questionable move to say the least. But pressure makes people say and do strange things, and make no mistake — there’s pressure on the Sky, who presumably aren’t all that eager to find themselves on the business end of what would be one of the biggest postseason upsets in league history.
Under the WNBA’s new postseason format, first-round series have replaced single-elimination games. This is an exciting development that makes inevitable the sort of first-round upsets no one ever sees coming. They don’t happen often, not in other leagues, anyway, but when they do, they’re dramatic and unforgettable — and most certainly not in a good way for the Goliaths that fall to Davids like the 16-20 Liberty.
In the NBA, only five No. 1 seeds and five No. 2 seeds have lost first-round series. One of those No. 1s was — pain alert — the 2012 Bulls, who went down in six games to the 76ers after Derrick Rose tore an ACL in the series opener. Regarded more ignominiously by Chicago fans are the 1986 Bears, defending Super Bowl champions, who went 14-2 in the regular season but got dumped 27-13 by the wild-card Redskins at Soldier Field, and the 2016 and 2017 playoff Blackhawks, who were knocked out in the first round back-to-back on the heels of Stanley Cup glory in 2015. The 2017 Hawks were swept as a No. 1 seed by the fast, determined Predators, who gleefully shoveled dirt on a dynasty.
A Sky repeat likely would turn local fans on to the WNBA like never before. A one-series-and-done bow-out would be a bitter epilogue after last year’s out-of-nowhere title run.
“I don’t think our back’s against the wall,” Wade said. “We just have to play basketball. Nobody’s dying, so we’re fine. We just have to play. I don’t put any pressure on anyone.”
He doesn’t have to. Pressure presented itself in Game 1, and the Sky wilted as the Liberty dazzled with a 13-0 closing spurt to win 98-91.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy,” star Candace Parker said.
After scoring just four points in Game 1 — no way for an All-Star to behave — Emma Meesseman at least acknowledged the existence of the obvious.
“I think there’s definitely pressure,” she said, “but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s just going to mean that everybody’s more locked in. We were already motivated, of course, but it’s going to, like, give that little extra, too.”
Using pressure to their advantage? It could be just crazy enough to work.
“I think everybody focuses on the results when your back’s against the wall, but, to me, it’s going out and playing and competing,” Parker said. “If we are going to go down, then we’re going to go down in a certain way — we’re not going to go down passive and not aggressive. … We’ve got to play the right way, and then we’ll live with the results, whatever that is.”