After sweeping the season series between the teams, the Chicago Sky hope their offensive firepower can once again overcome the league’s top-scoring duo as they host the Phoenix Mercury in the first round of the WNBA playoffs Wednesday night.
The Sky, who recorded their third 20-win season in franchise history, are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. First-year coach and WNBA Coach of the Year James Wade improved the team’s defense while retaining an up-tempo offense that finished second in the league to Washington in scoring at 84.6 points per game.
Fifth-seeded Chicago boasts three All-Stars in point guard Courtney Vandersloot, shooting guard Diamond DeShields and forward Allie Quigley. Vandersloot bettered her own single-season mark for assists as she became the first WNBA player to surpass 300 and average better than 9.0 assists in a season.
DeShields increased her scoring average to 16.2 points in her second year while Quigley – Vandersloot’s wife – led the WNBA in 3-pointers with 80 and was second in 3-point shooting at 44.2 percent. All three played pivotal roles in Chicago’s three wins over Phoenix – Vandersloot averaged 11.7 points and 11.3 assists, DeShields averaged 19.3 points and Quigley hit 6 of 14 from beyond the arc while contributing 14.7 points per contest.
“I’m happy with where we are, but you’re never satisfied,” Wade told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re looking forward to the playoffs. They’re a dangerous team, they’ve won the last two years in single elimination where they upset teams, so we just have to be ready for them.”
The Sky’s star trio have also gotten scoring help from their teammates throughout the season series while averaging 93.7 points in the three victories. Chicago has had at least four players in double figures in each contest, including six in a 105-78 rout at home in the most recent matchup Sept. 1.
The eighth-seeded Mercury played most of the season without the league’s all-time leading scorer as Diana Taurasi was recovering from back surgery. A three-time WNBA champion, Taurasi appeared in just six games and reached double figures just once – netting 12 points in Phoenix’s 94-86 home loss to Chicago on Aug. 25.
Taurasi’s absence created a scoring void All-Stars Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner filled to varying degrees of success. Griner led the league in scoring for the second time in three seasons at 20.7 points per game and was the only player to clear 20. Bonner struggled down the stretch and averaged just 9.5 points in her final six games but still finished fifth in the league with 17.2 per contest.
Bonner also gave the Sky fits in all three matchups, recording double-doubles in each contest while averaging 19.3 points and 11.7 rebounds. Griner totaled 60 points in the final two games, including a season-high 34 in the Aug. 25 loss. The Sky are without injured starting forward Jantel Lavender, which means the frontcourt pair will likely see the ball a lot in the low post and try to create space for kickout passes on the perimeter.
“I think we’ll be fine in Chicago,” Griner told AZcentral.com. “Our track record is pretty good in single-elimination games. It’s bittersweet. Sweet because we always win them, but bitter because damn we’re in that same situation again. We’ve got to break it one of these years.”
With Taurasi a horrid 1 of 24 from 3-point range and 4 of 39 overall, the Mercury will likely be relying on Leilani Mitchell to be their top perimeter option. Mitchell was right behind Quigley in 3-point shooting at 43 percent and was fourth in the league with 74 treys. She totaled 12 points in the three losses to the Sky, shooting 3 of 5 from beyond the arc but 4 of 15 overall.
Griner and Bonner got little offensive help in their matchups with Chicago, with Phoenix failing to put more than three players in double figures in any contest.
If the Mercury advance, they will play at third-seeded Los Angeles on Sunday. Should the Sky win, they will face No. 4 seed Las Vegas on the road Sunday.
(Courtney Vandersloot photo courtesy WNBA official Twitter account)