The Chicago Sky are set to make their first trip to the postseason since 2016.
“People talk about expectations,” Chicago Sky head coach James Wade said back in April, long before the mind-numbing fatigue of training camp had even begun.
Wade has been loathe to talk much about broader expectations or playoff chatter for much of the season, preferring the nitty gritty day-to-day discussions of turnovers, rebounding and defense.
“I don’t know what needs to happen. The thing [that I I think about], is getting better. We have to be a better team than the previous day.”
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That daily improvement paid dividends on Tuesday night when the Sky all-but-clinched their first playoff appearance since 2016.
And it is hard to imagine a more perfect game for Chicago to punch their playoff ticket—an 87-83 thriller of a win over the Atlanta Dream. A win that probably should not have been as close as it was considering the Dream’s now 5-22 record, as well as Chicago’s 84-80 lead with 26.6 seconds left in the game.
“We just kind-of had to focus on us,” Diamond DeShields said after the game. DeShields finished with 17 points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocks, doing most of her damage in the second half. “We knew this was a game that we needed. Despite rankings and records, winning this game and it was one that we needed. We have some tough games coming up. To position ourselves better for the playoffs, we knew this was one that we couldn’t let slip. We just went out there and tried to pull ourselves back together, and we were able to get the win.”
It was ugly, stressful and not terribly convincing, but Chicago’s 16-11 record is proof enough that the Sky are legit, and somebody is going to have to grind for 40 minutes against them in the playoffs.
Stressful might be the best way to describe the Chicago Sky this year.
Seven of their games have been decided by five points or less, and 19 have been within 10 points. Chicago has a +/- of 0.9 on the season, but have outscored opponents by 43 points in the fourth quarter, behind only the Phoenix Mercury and Washington Mystics.
But Chicago has also dished out that stress all season, stretching teams the length of the court with crisp outlet passes to fuel the fastest team in the league. They dog teams with pick and rolls in the half court and throw skip passes to wide open shooters, forcing teams to scramble on rotations. They hardly resembled the team that got blown out by the Minnesota Lynx on opening night, Wade’s first time returning to Minnesota as a head coach.
After a dreadful preseason and a 1-2 start, the Sky rattled off five wins in six games, drawing attention across the league. But a four game skid cast doubt on whether or not Wade had actually helped Chicago outgrow its old issues. The Sky are 10-4 since that losing streak, and three of those losses have come against the league’s three best teams.
For all the doubt surrounding Chicago in the offseason, the Sky have proven they are here to stay.
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