The Chicago Sky made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. But there is no time to celebrate the accomplishment because the Sky are squaring off against the Phoenix Mercury in the first round tonight at 8 pm on ESPN 2. This is a win-or-go-home, single elimination game and will be taking place in Sky’s home, the Wintrust Arena. The Sky will likely be favored because they have home court advantage and have won all of their head to head matchups against the Mercury this season. Still, the Mercury have a roster full of proven playoff performers with a couple first-ballot Hall of Famers. Let’s take a closer look at this intriguing showdown.
Why the Sky could win
The fact that Chicago earned home-court advantage for this game by earning the fifth-seed could play a major role. The Sky play great at home and have amassed a 12-5 record in Chicago. They turn the ball over less and rebound better in the friendly confines of Wintrust Arena. While the Mercury have been merely average at home, they have struggled mightily on the road. They have the worst road record of any playoff team at 6-11 and score six less points per game on the road than at home. The arena should be rocking for this one and it will give the Sky a huge edge.
Offensively, the Chicago Sky are sometimes unstoppable. They rank in top five in points, assists, and three-point percentage. The sheer number of offensive threats on this team is a lot to handle for any defense. They have several stars, and don’t rely on a single offensive weapon. Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, or Diamond DeShields could go off and have a 30 point game and no one would really be all that surprised. This gives teams fits as they can’t lock in on one player and playing zone will leave them susceptible to three pointers. And one thing the Sky are not short of are shooters, Quigley is a Two Time Three Point Contest Champion after all.
The Chicago Sky have one of the deepest benches in the WNBA. Players Like Gabby Williams and Cheyenne Parker would be starters on most teams. Kahleah Cooper and Jamieerra Faulkner play well in their roles. With such a deep bench defenses will not get any relief. Dolson is subbed out? Here comes Parker. Vandersloot needs a breather? Good luck guarding Point Gabby with a one. Diamond is in foul trouble? Put Cooper on the floor and the team is still very fast. At any given time, Coach of the Year James Wade can have a mismatch on the court and with such smart point guards they will find a way to exploit it.
The Fab Five
Consistency has been key for the Chicago Sky starting five. After Jantel Lavender’s unfortunate injury, Astou Ndour has been doing a great job taking over that role. Astou has allowed the team to keep a deep bench and has carried most of the burden of missing Jantel Lavender. She has been a great second half player. Stefanie Dolson has started in every single game and has become one of the best stretch fives in the game. And, of course, let’s not forget the three All Stars. Quigley having another monster season, Diamond DeShields having a breakout year, and Courtney Vandersloot being the team MVP and, potentially, league MVP. Vandersloot not only leads the league with assists, but she broke the record for most assists in a season, finishing 2019 with 300.
Why the Sky could lose
Can’t Handle BG
Britney Griner should scare the Sky. The six-time all star and champion is one of the game’s current legends. She has looked as dominant as ever by leading the league in scoring with 20.7 points per game. BG has the ability to completely take over a game and did just that on August 25th when she scored a season-high 34 points in a loss against the Sky 94-86. In a single elimination match anything can happen and Griner going off could carry her team to victory.
The Sky have little playoff experience and that is a valid concern. Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, and Jamierra Faulkner all played on the last Chicago Sky team to make it to the Finals in 2014. However, the Vanderquigs are now all stars leading the team rather than role players. Faulkner has not played a lot this season coming back from injury. Jantel Lavender has a championship ring and extensive playoff experience from her time in Los Angeles, but she will be watching from the bench. No one else has major playoff experience. What happens if they start the game slow? Get into foul trouble? Have a few questionable calls got against them? Do they have the maturity to handle adversity and win?
The inexperience of the Sky becomes an even bigger issue when considering the opponent. Diana Taurasi, who is listed as doubtful for this game, is arguably the greatest playoff performer in WNBA history and there isn’t a great argument against it. Dewanna Bonner and Britney Griner have both played major roles on championship teams. Even the Mercury’s role players, Essence Carson, Briann January, Leilani Mitchell, have played in big time playoff games.
Overall I feel the Sky are in the best position they could’ve been.They have home court and finished fifth overall, no major injuries (Minus Jantel Lavender), and have a roster that can easily go ten deep. I believe on Wednesday the Chicago Sky will win 90-82. Griner will have a good game, but it won’t be enough to change the outcome of the game. The Chicago Sky will have a balanced attack and I expect Vandersloot to be the savy vet she is and close the game out in the final two minutes. The Chicago Sky have the regular season sweep, and with another win against the Mercury on Wednesday they will be one step closer to their ultimate goal, a WNBA Championship.