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Chicago Sky: From Record-Setting to Recrowned?

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Chicago dominated the regular season, but a formidable playoff staircase separates it from the championship sky.

With the regular season done, the Sky’s journey to championship number two is more alive than ever. Chicago put together a franchise-record 26-win regular season and entered the postseason with a decisive win. That momentum from Sunday’s regular-season finale, an 82-67 victory over the Phoenix Mercury, is much-needed, too.

While the regular season looked great at 26-10, enough to tie the Las Vegas Aces for the league’s best record, August was Chicago’s worst month.

The Sky went 3-3 this month. It was their first month with three losses since the season began in May. As a whole, the less-than-ideal record didn’t quite hinder Chicago, as it still finished atop the league standings alongside the Aces. However, those losses contributed to losing their position as the top seed as the Sky lost the tiebreaker to Vegas. 

The team adopted a clever “Recrown Skytown” slogan for the 2022 playoffs in the direct aftermath of its record regular season.

But to go from record-setting to recrowned, the Sky must attend to several issues.

Strong Starts Set Up Fruitful Finishes

Albeit cliché, the phrase “It’s not how you start but how you finish” is a valid statement. No matter how ugly or pretty the win, it counts all the same. The Sky’s 26-10 record, for example, is the franchise’s best, no matter how close those wins were.

In August, the Sky often found themselves having to come from behind to get the win, only for it not to work out.

During the loss to the Aces on August 11, the Sky failed to post 20 points in either of the first two quarters. Las Vegas started strong with a 27-16 first quarter and remained consistent enough to win. Meanwhile, Chicago’s 28-point third quarter was its lone 20-point period during the game and ineffective as a solution to the game.

In Thursday’s loss to the Seattle Storm, the Sky allowed its opponent to score 38 points in the first quarter. The next three quarters were nearly identical scoring-wise: a 29-28 second quarter in favor of the Sky and a second half where each team scored 24 and 21 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. So while Chicago may have eventually reached the point where it was playing at the same level as Seattle, it wasn’t enough.

That 12-point first-quarter deficit made all the difference.

So while the Sky can come from behind to get the win, it’s a tactic the team cannot rely on in the playoffs. A strong showing from the start is imperative to dictate the tempo, flow, and control of the game. When you fail to set that tone, you give up that control. The game is no longer yours to win; it’s yours to lose.

The atmosphere is already more thrilling during the playoffs, filled with excitement and nerves. Teams need every advantage they can get, starting when the ball is tipped. So while comeback wins can be fun, complete games are necessary for a championship run.

Turn Down the Turnovers

The Sky is strong in many areas, but turnovers remained an area of concern throughout the season. Based on regular-season play, Chicago averaged 5.1 turnovers per game, ninth-worst in the league.

Considering the often lively and thrilling environment of postseason basketball, turnovers can easily and quickly lead to a pivotal play that transforms into the game’s turning point. The Sky cannot give up opportunities and allow the momentum to shift.

In the first round, it could be easier for Chicago to get away with turnovers because the New York Liberty, their initial postseason opponent, has nearly as many at 5.0 per game. But that’s just one team. The Sky will have other teams to face afterward should they advance. And, to put it simply, it’s a dangerous way to approach any game.

Well-Balanced Contributions

Every team hopes for a long playoff run. But that makes it all the more important to be smart about managing players and learning to win effectively as a team.

The Sky has a great core, and it’s one of the team’s greatest strengths. While fans see Candace Parker as the star, Chicago is not a team defined by its best player. Instead, Chicago boasts collective talent and even proved it can win without Parker.

The postseason, however, can be a much different beast. The Sky can’t rely too heavily on Parker, Kahleah Copper, or Courtney Vandersloot. Each player has unique strengths, which need to be showcased in tandem with their teammates’.

There won’t be much of a point of a great Vandersloot find if the bucket doesn’t come with it. There won’t be much effectiveness from an Emma Meesseman stop if the following offensive set results in a turnover. And having starting-caliber bench players, such as Azurá Stevens and Rebekah Gardner, won’t help if they can’t effectively contribute and provide the starters with necessary breaks.

Chicago has a solid foundation, experience, and drive. Complacency has no place in their approach, so there’s plenty of reason to expect good postseason outcomes. With the potential for this year to be this squad’s final run together, there’s even more fuel to make this postseason one to remember. But it must be a matter of sustenance and consistency. That’ll determine whether Chicago achieves the ultimate goal.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and WNBA

Tweets by WNBA Lead

 

About Ashley Wijangco

Ashley is a Filipina American writer and Illinois journalism graduate based in the Chicago suburbs. She has a decade's worth of sports writing experience, having been published in several online publications. She writes about the Bulls, the Sky, and general NBA content for The Lead.

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