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Chicago Sky advance to the WNBA semifinals, holding off the New York Liberty 90-72 in a statement Game 3 win
By Julia Poe, Chicago Tribune
Aug 23, 2022 at 11:58 pm
The Chicago Sky had been here before.
Less than a week ago, they watched the New York Liberty thunder to a comeback win on the Sky’s home court in Game 1 of the first-round WNBA playoff series. The loss sparked fury in the Sky’s veteran core, which blamed the scoreless final minutes on a mental panic, then responded with a 38-point blowout victory in Game 2.
The Sky returned to the same scene Tuesday night, the Liberty carving a double-digit lead to three points with 9:02 to play.
This time, the stakes were higher in an elimination game in the best-of-three series. And this time, the Sky didn’t crumble.
The reigning champions held off a last gasp from the Liberty and pulled away for a 90-72 win at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to advance to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
“Building on the last game, we saw a flash of a team that we really want to be consistently,” Sky wing Kahleah Copper said. “We saw a version of ourselves that we fell in love with and that we want to grow on, and there’s just no going back. We set the tone. Anything under that is just unacceptable.”
The Sky built Tuesday’s victory around the crux of the Game 2 blowout — terrorizing the Liberty on the perimeter. The Liberty coughed up eight turnovers in the first half alone, an improvement from Game 2 but a weakness nonetheless as the Sky pounced on transition opportunities.
Marine Johannès opened the game with a scorching streak from long range, dropping her first three 3-pointers to fuel the Liberty’s early offense. But the Liberty couldn’t win the game from long range alone.
Sky forward Candace Parker and guard Courtney Vandersloot (22) celebrate during a timeout in the second half Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, in New York. (Noah K. Murray/AP)
The Sky centered their offense inside the arc, carving up the Liberty defense around the rim. Although they continued to spread scoring evenly through the starting lineup, the win hinged on their three veterans — guards Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot and center Candace Parker.
“We all looked at each other and kind of knew, ‘OK, this is the moment,’” Quigley said. “When I see (Vandersloot and Parker) on the court, I have so much trust in them. I want to live and die with them. So we all just kind of looked at each other and knew that we could do it. It’s going to come from all of us.”
Vandersloot and Parker led the way with a pair of double-doubles — Vandersloot with 14 points and 10 assists, Parker with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Parker fell two assists shy of her fourth career triple-double.
Six Sky players scored in double digits: Copper and Quigley scored 15 apiece, with Quigley sinking four 3-pointers, while Emma Meesseman and Azurá Stevens each contributed 12 points.
The win seemed destined in the third quarter when a loose ball slipped out of Parker’s fingers, ricocheted off Liberty forward Betnijah Laney’s arm and rattled into the basket. Sky players on the court and the bench lifted their arms in amusement — even their errors kept falling.
Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu entered Game 3 with a different edge as she sought to honor her late mentor, Kobe Bryant, on his birthday, wearing his jersey into the Barclays Center before the game. The Sky continued to harass the young guard into mistakes, forcing her into five turnovers.
Ionescu roared to life into the fourth quarter, scoring five quick points on a layup and a transition 3-pointer to cut the lead to five. But the Sky punched back rather than folding under the Liberty’s pressure. Quigley dropped back-to-back 3-pointers with four minutes remaining to anchor a 20-3 run to close the game.
The Sky will face the winner of Wednesday’s game between the Connecticut Sun and Dallas Wings on Sunday at Wintrust Arena in Game 1 of the semifinals (7 p.m., ESPN2).