The history of the WNBA playoffs has been closely contested games with dramatic finishes. Game 1 of the final unfortunately didn’t follow the trend. The Chicago Sky took to the streets putting together a comprehensive performance on both ends of the floor to secure a 91-77 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday.
After falling nine points at the beginning of the first quarter, Sky regrouped and used a 17-0 run in the second quarter to take control of the game. They went into double digits at halftime and despite some excitement here and there from the Mercury, the result was never really in doubt the rest of the way.
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Kahleah Copper continued her breakout campaign with 21 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals in an impressive overall performance. Courtney Vandersloot ran the show as usual with 12 points and 11 assists, while Stefanie Dolson stepped off the bench to score 14 points.
The Mercury, who didn’t finish their semi-finals series until late Friday night and are understaffed due to injuries, appeared to run out of gas at times. Brittney Griner was aiming for 20 points, six rebounds and three assists, but was not quite as dominant in this run as at times. Diana Taurasi meanwhile had 17 points, but was overall rather ineffective. She struggled with foul problems the entire game and flipped the ball six times.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
1. Copper continues to deliver
Kahleah Copper isn’t the biggest name on this Sky team, but she was arguably their best player of the postseason. She provided further evidence to back that claim on Sunday, delivering 21 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals in the Game 1 win.
Copper has been an impact throughout this run because she is versatile enough to affect all aspects of the game. It can score on the edge or from the outside, is a threat in transition, rebounds extremely well for a wing and plays on the defensive.
“I think I was just trying to be special and contribute to the game in different ways,” said Copper. “I can not only influence the result of the game because I have to give my team extra possession when it ricochets and they also play a good defense. I think it’s important for me to bring all of these aspects into account so that we can win.” . “
We saw all of these skills come together in this game. When Mercury tried to give her space on the perimeter, she accepted the challenge and buried two 3’s. And when they tried to push her, she easily got off the track to quit or be fouled. The Mercury couldn’t stop her from the glass either, and she came up with five major offensive rebounds that helped Sky score 15 points for second chance. Defensively, she came up with two steals, each leading to buckets at the other end.
Between the regular season and the playoffs, the Sky are now 14-6 when Copper hits at least 15 points and 5-1 when she hits 20. When she goes on the offensive like that, on top of everything else she brings, the Sky are just really hard to beat.
2. Dolson gets off the bench
After Stefanie Dolson had started much of the season, she switched to the bench and sometimes only played a few minutes in the playoffs. But in Game 1, when the Sky inside needed a little more strength to keep up with Brittney Griner, and a couple of shots to space the ground on the other end, Dolson got the call.
“I said [Dolson] During the last series, it’s like it doesn’t matter who we play against, you’ll be big for us in the next series, “said Sky head coach James Wade.” So I have to lock you up. “
That was it, with 14 points to 6 of 8 out of the field in 16 minutes. The 14 points were the third most she has scored in a game for the entire season and were the only bank points Sky took that afternoon. Even so, they were enough for Dolson to outperform the Mercury bank all by himself at 14-9.
“I think that’s what makes our team special,” said Candace Parker. “I think it’s Stef who knows that and is ready. I think everyone during this postseason has had a moment or game that if we didn’t have it at that moment, we wouldn’t win. I think it means understanding that. ” and being patient with it and knowing it, and that’s what Stef did. I was just so proud of the way she played defensively, but also of her aggressiveness and determination on the offensive. “
Dolson, who shot 40.4 percent from 3-point land this season, is the best outside threat in Sky’s front-court rotation, and that’s why she should see extra playtime on this series. While Griner is a strong defender, she does her best indoors and prefers not to stray too far from the basket. That’ll leave Dolson wide open for most of the time when it comes to pick-and-pop opportunities, and if she continues to fire shots it’ll make it even harder to defend the skies.
3. Fatigue, injuries catch up with Mercury
During an interview with Ros Gold-Onwude on the show between the third and fourth quarters, Diana Taurasi refused to apologize for the Mercury’s game. “We’re not tired, we’re just getting kicked in the buttocks,” said Taurasi, with the team down 13 at the time.
It was not at all surprising to hear Taurasi go this route, but while she wouldn’t publicly admit it, it certainly seemed as if the events of the past few days had caught up with Mercury in this game. While they started strong, they faded as the game progressed and you never felt like they were actually making a comeback.
After the first quarter, shooting 10 of 19 and leading 25-20, the Mercury walked the rest of the way 17 of 43, spinning the ball 14 times and scoring just 52 points. On the other hand, they couldn’t keep the sky away from the paint or the glass. Put simply, it looked like a team that was exhausted. Head coach Sandy Brondello admitted that after the game.
“Definitely. I don’t want to make excuses, but we were tired,” said Brondello. “I understand that. In the second quarter we only lost by three in the second half, but if you are not physically tired then the execution was not really where we needed it, if you are mentally tired.” Ends of the floor. “
“The most important thing for us is that we have to freshen up in the next few days,” continued Brondello. “It’s actually a good thing that we won’t play again until Wednesday. We can regroup, watch the video and play a better game on Wednesday.”
The Mercury’s semi-final series with the aces went over the distance, and Game 5 wasn’t finished until late Friday night in Las Vegas. They only had about 36 hours to start Game 1 of the Finals and had to travel back to Phoenix. Due to injuries to Kia Nurse and Sophie Cunningham, they are currently only playing against seven players. In addition, Taurasi’s wife, Penny Taylor, gave birth to a baby girl early Saturday morning, and it’s hard to imagine that she was fully rested in an event of this magnitude.
That fatigue wasn’t the only reason the Mercury lost, but it definitely didn’t help. And now they have lost their home advantage and are 1-0 down in a short series of five games. The good news is they have three days off to recover from Game 2.