Chicago Sky can’t close 20-win season with a victory, but now look towards the postseason
Chicago was still in play for the fourth seed when they tipped off, but needed to beat the Mystics and have the Las Vegas Aces lose their final game of the season. The loss to the Mystics ended up not mattering, however, as Las Vegas beat the Mercury 98-89 shortly after the conclusion of the Sky’s game.
The Sky were 3-0 against the Mercury in the regular season, including two recent wins that came during a seven-day span. Chicago beat Phoenix by an average of 14 points, but two of their wins were decided by eight points or less. If the Sky advance, they would square off against the Las Vegas Aces.
Head coach James Wade isn’t looking past the Mercury, however, and is taking the playoffs game by game.
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“We know they’re a good team, we know they’re dangerous,” Wade said after the Mystics game. “We’ve been fortunate enough to beat them three times, but in the playoffs everything is 0-0. So we just take the experiences with us and try to defend them as good as possible and just try to play our game.”
Sunday’s game against the Mystics was a humbling reminder that, despite the Sky’s elevated play as of late, they are still very much vulnerable.
While the Sky shot a blistering 50 percent from the field, the Mystics outrebounded the Sky 42-29 and had 14 offensive boards. Chicago had no answer to the Mystics on defense and Washington was able to dominate the glass all game.
Elena Delle Donne had 20 points in the first quarter and controlled the game from the word go. The MVP favorite finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes of play.
“We just try to crowd her space and make it difficult for her,” Wade said, “but even when you do that she still finds ways to score and finds ways to get her teammates involved.”
Matters got worse when Astou Ndour was ejected late in the second quarter for making contact with the official. Per the WNBA’s rulebook, any player who makes intentional physical contact with an official is automatically ejected from the game.
Ndour has been a revelation for the Sky following starting center Jantel Lavender’s season-ending injury. She has filled in seamlessly and has helped keep the Sky’s frontcourt afloat with consistent play on both ends of the floor. Her presence was sorely missed against the Mystics’ stacked frontcourt—Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman and Tianna Hawkins combined for 60 of Washington’s 100 points.
After initially declining to comment on the ejection, Wade added his thoughts on the matter:
“I do want to say something about the ejection and this is all I got to say. Astou, she’s a sweetheart and if you know her you know she didn’t mean any ill will. I think what is good to know is that, if we have a player who doesn’t really speak English and wants to get your attention, sometimes the next thing is going to be touching.”
UPDATE: The WNBA issued this statement Monday morning: ““After a league review, we have determined that the technical foul against Chicago’s Astou Ndour should not have been assessed. The technical foul and subsequent ejection have been rescinded.”
Ndour was born in Senegal before moving to the Canary Islands and English is not her first language. Wade said he believes Ndour was just trying to get the refs attention when the ejection occurred, and that ejecting a player who is more reliant on physical communication negatively affects their morale with the refs.
“When we came in at the half she felt very deflated because she felt like she let her teammates down and that wasn’t the case,” Wade continued. “So we spent a lot of our halftime picking her up, and it’s something I thought could have been avoided.”
Ndour took to Twitter after the game to say she disagreed with the call, but respected the decision.
While Ndour’s ejection threw the Sky through a loop, Chicago rallied and cut the score to six points on the back of a strong bench performance late in the third.
“I felt like we weren’t playing with the same energy that we’ve had,” Wade said. “I think Astou getting kicked out of the game kind of woke us up a little bit so we just try to do the best that we can.”
The comeback was short lived when the Mystics responded in kind in the fourth. A late surge by the Sky cut the score within reason, but Washington’s 26-point lead late in the quarter tells the true story of the Mystics’ dominating performance.
Onward to the playoffs
Sunday’s loss was a disappointment for a team looking to build on their momentum from dropping the Connecticut Sun on the road. But it’s a learning experience in a season defined by dramatic improvement throughout the Sky organization.
Two years removed from the playoffs, Chicago enters the postseason this year with homecourt advantage in the first round. A year after going 13-21 and posting the worst defensive rating in league history, Chicago is 20-14 and one of the most dangerous teams in the WNBA.
A big factor in that improvement has come from the rebuilt culture in the Sky’s organization and James Wade’s ability to get his players to buy in.
“When I got to Minnesota they already had a level of championship mentality and a championship blueprint,” Wade said. “I just wanted to add to it and not take away from it. Here, we’re trying to create something kind of like from the ground since they haven’t made the playoffs in a few years.”
On whether or not he’s in the running for the league’s Coach of the Year honors (he very much is), Wade had this to say: “No I’m not. It’s 11 coaches better than me.”
Whether or not Wade is Coach of the Year when the Sky face off against the Mercury on Wednesday, he’ll be heading the newest era of Chicago basketball, looking to leave his mark deep in the postseason.
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