Chicago

Sky fall in first round to Sun, ending impactful season

Chicago
USA Today

The Chicago Sky exited the 2020 WNBA Playoffs in the first round with a 94-81 loss to the Connecticut Sun Tuesday.

That caps an up-and-down, injury-riddled and wholly unprecedented campaign played inside the WNBA’s bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The Sky's regular season ended 12-10, the fourth-best winning percentage in franchise history. Courtney Vandersloot smashed records left and right. Breakout years for Kahelah Copper and Cheyenne Parker, plus the late-season emergence of rookie Ruthy Hebard are silver linings.
 
Still, the single-elimination defeat stings. In a matchup of contrasting styles, the Sun dictated the tenor of the game, outrebounding the Sky 40-21 (17-5 offensive), getting to the charity stripe 29 times (making 27) to Chicago’s 16, and more than tripling them up in the second-chance points department (23-7). 
 
All were areas Sky head coach James Wade and multiple members of the team pinpointed as areas of focus going in.
 
"They're one of the better teams in the paint and that's what they wanted to do and I thought they imposed that on us,” Wade said after the game, adding that it was “disheartening” to watch the Sky lag behind on the glass.
 
And the Suns' stars showed out. Alyssa Thomas lived up to her “Playoff AT” moniker, dropping 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists while shooting 10-for-19 from the field and 6-for-7 from the line — a ludicrous performance. DeWanna Bonner poured in 23 points and 12 rebounds, swiped three steals and made all 13 of her free-throw tries. The two combined for more rebounds (25) and free-throw attempts (20) than the Sky as a team. Brionna Jones chipped in eight rebounds (six offensive), and Kaila Charles 13 crucial points off the bench.
 
The Sky, meanwhile, had four in double figures: Allie Quigley (19), Copper (17), Gabby Williams (16) and Vandersloot (12), and did connect on 50% of their field goals. Williams canned two 3s to spur a 10-2 run that closed the first half and drew the Sky level 41-41 at the break after trailing through most of the earlygoing. 
 
But a 13-2 Sun sprint to start the third foretold a lopsided second half that saw the underdogs lead by as many as 20. A flurry of 3-pointers pulled the Sky within nine in the final minute-and-a-half, but a string of stops eluded them. The interior battle skewed too far in the Sun’s favor, and the Sky's potent offensive attack didn't begin to hum until it was too late.
 
So, a season that began with championship aspirations ends in first-round defeat. The role of injuries in that result can’t be overstated. Diamond DeShields (personal) and Azurá Stevens (knee) both left the bubble on Aug. 29, a point from which the Sky finished 2-6. DeShields, a breakout candidate after making her first All-Star team in 2019, struggled with knee ailments even before exiting.
 
“If this bubble teaches you anything, it's that life is unpredictable," Wade said. "So you can't depend on what ifs. I feel like we had a more than capable team of winning tonight, with or without the group that we had. Injuries happen, it's a part of the game. 
 
"We'll have them back next year and we'll be happy about that but I can't just sit back and say, hey, it would have been different if we had a different team."

Now, they're on their way home, a bittersweet proposition. Though entering the bubble was initially a tough sell for some amid the COVID-19 pandemic and mass social unrest, the prevailing sentiment was that it was a rewarding experience.

 
“I'm not ready to go,” Williams said. "I really enjoyed playing this summer with these girls and I love how everyone stepped up, how everyone got closer.
 
"Living with Sloot, Allie and Stef, I feel like we've gotten to know each other inside out now, but we really had to have each other's backs. Like, emotionally and physically. I had to rely on every one of my teammates at some point during this summer and they all had my back, and I feel like that really builds our trust."
 
On-court result aside, Williams said the Sky Take Action campaign, an initiative announced to augment the WNBA’s season dedicated to social justice, raised over $100,000 for Chicago community organizations this season through a combination of performance-based incentives (the team's 12-10 record and 1,908 total points scored makes $20,780), donation-matches from big donors and fundraising done by fans.
 
"Now the next steps is how we're going to allocate that. That'll be the work I'm doing while I'm overseas (this offseason)," Williams said. "Just talking with these organizations, seeing what projects they need, seeing what they need built, who needs food, whatever it is. This isn't over."
 
Along with other teams around the W, the Sky also lent platform to causes important to them, including but not limited to seeking justice for Breonna Taylor in the form of arresting the Louisville police officers that killed her, campaigning for Raphael Warnock, a Democratic challenger for Kelly Loeffler's Senate seat, and advocating for all victims of racial injustice and police violence.
 
 
Even short of the ultimate goal, the team can go home knowing their presence in the “Wubble” had that impact.
 
“I told them thank you,” Wade said when asked his parting message to the team. “And how much I really appreciated them coming. I know because of COVID, because of social injustice issues it was just a tough time for everybody, especially the players that play overseas that haven’t gotten a chance to see their parents and their loves ones. But for them to commit to the team, for them to commit to us as a coaching staff and them to commit to the Chicago Sky, I think it said a lot from them.
 
"I also said that we weren’t good enough tonight, so that makes two playoffs in a row that just didn’t go our way. So I want them to take the loss with them and just understand that we have to come back better.
 
“Our goal is to bring a championship to this franchise, and that’s it.”
 
Playoff losses bring pain. But with a still-burgeoning young core, bright days remain ahead for the Sky.
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