Sky Use Late Barrage To Eliminate Liberty From WNBA Playoffs

After an upset defeat in Game 1 of a first round series, the reigning WNBA champion Chicago Sky found themselves facing elimination sooner than most anticipated. On cue, the Sky throttled the New York Liberty by a 38-point margin in Game 2, setting a WNBA playoff record for margin of victory in the process, but Chicago still faced an elimination scenario with Game 3 on the road on Tuesday.

Though much of the game was competitive, the Sky used a haymaker of a fourth quarter run to put the exclamation point on a 90-72 win and a series victory. From the opening tip-off, the energy level was sky-high for the first-ever WNBA Playoff game at Barclays Center, and the Liberty bounced back effectively from Game 2.

New York’s Marine Johannes keyed an intriguing start for the home team, firing a fantastic pass and burying back-to-back three-pointers in the first five minutes.

Johannes made her first three triples in the first quarter, scoring nine points, and that work kept the Liberty in touch. On the other side, the Sky generated eight assists and converted eight of her 11 attempts from inside the arc, operating with real balance and taking a five-point lead at the end of the opening period.

On defense, the Sky were creating havoc, including five turnovers in the first quarter, and that continued into the second period. Chicago eventually built a 12-point halftime lead, including a pivotal three-point connection from Courtney Vandersloot.

In the first half, Chicago shot 54 percent from the floor with 17 assists, headlined by 12 points from Vandersloot. Six players on the Sky scored at least seven points, and Chicago’s defensive havoc led directly to 13 points off New York’s turnovers. That led to a comfortable, double-digit lead for the Sky at the break, but nothing was assured in an elimination game on the road.

The Sky extended their lead to 14 points in the early moments of the third quarter, but the Liberty picked up their defensive intensity. New York slashed the margin back to single digits as a result, with Sabrina Ionescu knocking down a pull-up jumper to force a Chicago timeout.

Chicago scored only three points in more than six minutes, floundering after a hyper-efficient first half showing. New York failed to take full advantage of the defensive progress, however, and Chicago was able to extend the lead back to 13 points after an extremely lucky bounce led to a basket with 2:17 to go in the third.

The Liberty did not fold from there, responding with a Natasha Howard put-back at the buzzer. That gave Chicago only a ten-point lead as the closing period arrived, and the door was open for New York’s potential comeback at home. Then, within the first 30 seconds of the fourth quarter, Ionescu produced a five-point possession on her own with the help of a missed free throw and a difficult three-pointer.

With that explosion from Ionescu as the centerpiece, New York scored nine straight points and climbed within a 68-65 deficit with more than eight minutes remaining. That uptick was short-lived for the Liberty, as Chicago had an on-time response. The Sky scored the next 16 consecutive points, taking a commanding 19-point lead seemingly in the blink of an eye.

The damage was done at that point, with the Sky cruising to the 18-point victory. Chicago received balance contributions, including six players scoring in double figures, and the duo of Vandersloot and Candace Parker led the way. Vandersloot finished with 14 points, 10 assists and five rebounds on the night, with Parker adding 14 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists in the frontcourt. The Sky also held the Liberty to only 30 points in the second half, and a valiant effort from New York simply wasn’t enough.

The Sky will advance to face the winner of Wednesday’s Game 3 matchup between the Connecticut Sun and the Dallas Wings in the semifinal. That series will begin on Sunday as the nightcap of a doubleheader after Game 1 between the Seattle Storm and the Las Vegas Aces.