Chicago’s 94-86 victory over the Phoenix Mercury marked win number 18 for the team
By the numbers, the 2019 season is now the third most successful regular season in franchise history, and there’s still five games left to play. While that 2016 team relied heavily on former Sky superstar Elena Delle Donne—fourth in MVP voting that year—this year’s team has found success through a broader mixture of contributions.
At times the Sky have fallen back on their star power, banking on players like Diamond DeShields or Allie Quigley to keep them in games. It’s hard to find another pair of players who you would trust more to get you a bucket at any given moment, and the tandem has delivered in big moments this year.
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Other games it’s the bench who has come through to give Chicago the offensive oomph it needs. Early on it was Cheyenne Parker, who has reemerged as of late. Kahleah Copper made waves through her shot making ability and Gabby Williams continues to grow as a viable backup point guard. Now it’s Astou Ndour, who has filled in at the starting four spot in the wake of Jantel Lavender’s foot injury, who has lifted the Sky.
“Everybody thought it was going to be tough for us when Jantel [Lavender] went out,” head coach James Wade said, “and it is to a certain extent, but you know it always gives other players and opportunity to go and I always have confidence in our roster and so I am not surprised by the effort they gave, especially here on the road. We just want to keep going.”
Sunday’s game was a marriage of both styles—the Sky at times only surviving because of the divine intervention that is star power in basketball, and at other times relying on the bench to make a splash.
First it was Allie Quigley and Astou Ndour doing damage for the Chicago Sky.
As go-to players like Courtney Vandersloot and DeShields struggled in the early goings of the game, Ndour and Quigley kept the ship afloat.
Quigley did it in her usual fashion, with an array of speedy catch-and-shoot jumpers and a two-point pullup. And Ndour, whose 6-foot-5 frame the Mercury’s big could not keep off the glass, had seven rebounds in the first quarter, including three offensive boards in the last 27 seconds of the period.
Then came Parker, who brought her usual burst of energy off the bench in the form of eight points and three rebounds. Parker steadied the Sky as the Mercury marched to the free throw line and dropped in 12 points from beyond the arc.
DeShields, who was 2-for-7 in the first half, led Chicago’s 28-points third quarter with 10 points and a steal. The microwave of a guard finished with 18 points and five rebounds. In the fourth, it was another well-rounded effort of contribution that has become the Sky’s hallmark at this point in the season.
Throughout it all was Vandersloot controlling the performance the same way she has all year. Chicago’s floor generally ended the night just one point and one rebound shy of a triple-double, although her ludicrous 13 assists filled the stat sheet plenty despite an off night scoring the ball.
Vandersloot’s passing has been the reason why, all year, she can have a dreadful shooting night and still seem like the most impactful player on the floor. It’s why the All-Star received MVP chants in the Sky’s victory over the Washington Mystics last Friday, another night where the 5-foot-8 guard flirted with a triple-double.
“[The chants] made me miss my free throw,” Vandersloot said after the Mystics game. “No, I had a real surreal moment out there thinking, wow, this is really me out here and they’re chanting MVP. They may be a little biased, but I’m cool with it. I’m gonna roll with it.”
Vandersloot continues to roll with it en route to some blistering performances.
You have to go back to July 10 to find a game where Vandersloot had less than eight assists, and she has cracked double-digits assist numbers in six games since. She is now averaging a touch above nine assists per game, and has nearly as many assists on the season as she has field goal attempts, despite being in the top 30 in the league in shots taken. Vandersloot is likely going to blow past the single-season assist records (her own) next game.
It’s why the Sky find themselves capable of relying on different players to win game from night to night. While Chicago’s main contributors can have off nights and its bench sometimes comes out flat, there always seems to be somebody who steps up.
A big part of that is Vandersloot, who almost always gets the ball to where it needs to go and has helped the Sky get to where they are now.
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