Diamond DeShields helps Chicago Sky cruise past Phoenix Mercury in first round playoff game

UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT- August 12: Diamond DeShields #1 of the Chicago Sky in action during the Connecticut Sun Vs Chicago Sky, WNBA regular season game at Mohegan Sun Arena on August 12, 2018 in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT- August 12: Diamond DeShields #1 of the Chicago Sky in action during the Connecticut Sun Vs Chicago Sky, WNBA regular season game at Mohegan Sun Arena on August 12, 2018 in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) /

A rout in Diamond DeShields’ playoff debut

CHICAGO – The narrative peddled all week leading up to the first round playoff game between the eighth-seeded Phoenix Mercury and the fifth-seeded Chicago Sky and has been one of experience vs. lack thereof. Could Chicago’s high-flying young team, with only 101 playoff games between them, overcome Phoenix’s cast of wily veterans, with a comparatively vast 343?

Evidently, the answer was a resounding yes.

In front of an energetic crowd at Wintrust Arena on Wednesday night, the Sky won their first playoff game since October 2, 2016, defeating the Mercury, 105-76.  With the win, they advanced to another win-or-go home game, which will be played on Sunday on the road against the fourth-seed Las Vegas Aces.

They did so on the back of yet another Herculean effort from second-year guard Diamond DeShields, who entered the night having played in a grand total of 0 playoff games. Astou Ndour also chipped in what was somehow an almost quiet 16 points and nine rebounds, and this was just career playoff game number two for her. Stefanie Dolson, in career playoff game number six, posted a 16-7-3 line.

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So, at least for the night, the experience narrative was practically meaningless.

DeShields, who has played her way into at the very least future MVP discussions with a breakout season, tallied 25 points, four assists and three rebounds on a 10-for-19 night from the field. The offense ran through her for much of the game, as she both flew down the court for easy fastbreaks and overpowered the lane with her speed whenever she wanted to, regardless of the contact waiting for her. Sky coach James Wade said it was clear his star guard was made for these kinds of moments, and Mercury coach Sandy Brondello went as far to say she thinks DeShields will be one of the best to have ever played when she retires.

“Our approach and intensity and level of attention to detail was heightened,” DeShields said. “But having teammates like them reassuring me and making me feel comfortable and sure of myself, I felt like it was just another game. Obviously there was more at stake, but I was really comfortable out there tonight.”

Of those 101 combined Sky playoff games prior to tonight, Courtney Vandersloot accounted for 19 of them. And though the narrative proved quite futile on the night, it certainly looked to be paying some dividends early as Sky got their legs under them. She handled the offense early until DeShields starting knocking down shots, registering four early assists (two of which were of the no-look variety) to key an early 10-2 run. (Vandersloot finished with nine points and 11 assists).

“I just kept preaching that when you get into the playoffs it’s another level of basketball,” Vandersloot said. “I was telling them it doesn’t matter what the seeding is once you get into the playoffs because every team is good, every team is hungry. We had to be our best to win this game, and I think we had a pretty good showing.”

In fairness to this narrative that we’re raking over the coals, the Mercury did not win a game in the month of September. They walked into Wintrust Arena losers of four straight, and losers of all three previous games against the Sky this season. Nonetheless, the Sky had to know Phoenix wouldn’t go down without a struggle, in spite of everything.

And they did put up a fight at first. Briann January was her usual consistent self, Brittney Griner was making her presence felt and the Mercury were hanging around for much of the first half. But Griner hit the ground hard with an apparent knee injury early in the second quarter, and was essentially lost for the game save for a few minutes in the third quarter when she tried, painfully and unsuccessfully, to play through the injury.

While her team hung played the rest of the half serviceably without their best player, and trailed just 44-41 at the half, the Sky reeled off an easy 12-0 run to start the second half and that was basically all she wrote. DeShields accounted for five of those points, of course.

“I think it helps a lot,” Wade said. “It gives us some momentum. Each game is its separate self but in the playoffs, things can give you momentum. It can only help us, because we won and the way we won. We get to see the things we need to fix, and that’s what you get in a playoff game you win.”

So all of this begs the question: does playoff experience really matter? Perhaps for a young Chicago team in the midst of a remarkable run, it does now. The Sky will be put to a serious test on Sunday against a team they have not matched up well with this season in the Aces, and they will need as much of an edge as they can get.

“[Las Vegas] is a tough team,” Vandersloot said. “They have two incredible bigs so that’s a tough matchup for us but when we’re playing our game, when we’re doing the things that we’re doing, it’s tough for other teams.”

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