The night started with flowers for the Chicago Sky and bloomed from there on out.
CHICAGO — In the Sky’s first game back from the break, Diamond DeShields, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot all received bouquets in recognition of their All-Star selections. It was a fitting honor for a big three that has helped elevate the Sky into contention this season.
But Wednesday night’s 40 minute War of the Roses—and win number 13 for the Sky—saw major contributions from all of the Sky’s troops.
Four of the five starters for Chicago scored 16 or more points in the win. Stefanie Dolson, who finished with eight, also had five rebounds and six assists, the second most assists for the Sky behind Courtney Vandersloot.
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Jantel Lavender and Vandersloot combined for 36 points, with both players buoying the Sky throughout the game. Vandersloot repeatedly blew by the New York Liberty’s defenders off the dribble and Lavender scored off of a myriad of post moves, putbacks and the longest twos possible.
The bench had a cumulative 19 points from four different players, and head coach James Wade relied on a closing lineup of Gabby Williams, Kahleah Copper, Katie Lou Samuelson, Cheyenne Parker and Jantel Lavender to close out the final minute with the game still in the balance.
Dolson found her rhythm offensively as an orchestrator—getting herself into position deep in the post, distributing to the cutters flying around her and the shooters spotting up from three. Even though she did not crack double digits scoring the ball, it was about as involved in the offense as she has been all year.
Dolson’s contributions came despite a massive night from Tina Charles, who had 24 points, five rebounds and six assists.
“I love Tina,” Dolson said after the game. “She’s an incredible player. I can’t say I look forward to our matchups because she’s so good, but I think it’s always a fun fight for the two of us to go at each other.”
There was unmistakable chemistry between Dolson and every other Sky player on the floor for all 29 of her minutes, and that made Chicago’s offense as dangerous as ever. In no small part due to Dolson’s work, the Sky got plenty of great looks all game, particularly from three—they just were not knocking them down. Chicago missed 17 of their 22 attempts from deep, and did not hit a three until nearly 20 minutes into the game.
Allie Quigley did her part to bring that number up a few notches. After a first half that seemed to spell regression for a player who has been on a tear lately, Quigley dropped 18 points and three triples in the second half.
She has scored 20+ points in two of her three contests since the break, and also had 19 points in her last game before All-Star weekend. Her one off night—an eight point, 21 minute outing against the Atlanta Dream—came in a game where Chicago was in control the whole way through.
It was a game where the Sky, despite their woeful shooting from deep, felt solid the whole way through. Chicago’s nightly string of defensive lapses came in smaller bunches, and the Sky were able to generate consistent offense all game even without outside production.
“Once we slowed down and started to execute our offense and we got stops by being in passing lanes and causing deflections, that’s when I feel like our team plays at its best,” Lavender said. “So we just can’t have those lows and I think that’s where we’ll take a step towards being a championship team more often and more games in a row.”
The win felt like progress for a team that has struggled to put in a full 40 minutes of solid offensive basketball. Despite the Sky’s deadly numbers on that end—they are tied for the third-best offensive rating and have both the second-best assist percentage and true shooting percentage—turnovers, stagnant possessions and offensive rebounding issues usually undercut them for stretches. Against the Liberty, the Sky won the offensive rebounding battle, only turned the ball over eight times and fielded a noticeably smoother offense than usual.
Nevermind the fact that Chicago’s thirteenth win, equalling their final win total from last year, comes with the added bonus of giving the Liberty their fourteenth loss. The Liberty, who are now 8-14, would need to have an historically good finish to the season to knock off the Sky, and that is assuming Chicago bottoms out completely.
“It was huge. We have not just the two road games but we have them again when we come back,” Quigley said. “So to have four tough games ahead of us and just to be able to get this win and keep New York on the bottom of the playoffs, it’s huge for us. Now we’ve just gotta take these games one at a time and get some revenge on them because we lost to them both last time. We’ve got to come with an edge.”
The Sky now seem primed to lock into a spot early and potentially jockey for first round bye, or at least home court advantage. Wednesday night’s game coming down to the wire in the end is just the cherry on top in preparing Chicago for its likely postseason appearance.
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