It was a classic Chicago Sky-style win to get out of a deciding Game 3 on the road and head back to the WNBA semifinals at their own house. They bounced the No. 7 seed New York Liberty, 90-72, behind their historic assists rate and typically balanced scoresheet on the road at Barclays Center in New York on Tuesday night.
The Sky will face the winner of No. 3 Connecticut and No. 6 Dallas. That Game 3 is Wednesday night. The No. 1 seed Aces and No. 4 seed Storm have already booked berths in the other semifinal. The new playoff format does not reseed teams between rounds.
Chicago led by a safe, but relatively low, double-digit margin for most of the contest until Sabrina Ionescu brought the Liberty within five to start the fourth. They came within one possession, but that comeback attempt quickly evaporated as the Sky's offense soared on a 16-0 run to seal it. New York scored seven points in the final 9:02.
Each Sky starter and their sixth player finished between 12 and 15 points and the team finished with 27 assists, three more than their WNBA-record average of 24.3. Candace Parker neared a triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and two blocks. Azura Stevens neared a double-double off the bench with 12 points (5-of-9) and eight rebounds.
The Sky are looking to become the first team to repeat as champions since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02. Their title window is small with so many players again entering free agency this winter.
How the Sky closed out the series
When this happens, it's fair to say it's just your night.
Chicago was able to do almost anything it wanted offensively in the first half against the Liberty's poor defense. The Liberty failed to disrupt the shooters or passing lanes, allowing the Sky to shoot 53.7% in the first half. Chicago had as many assists in the half as the Liberty had field goals (17) and nearly did the same by game's end (27 to 30).
The Sky rushed the Liberty offense and took advantage of New York's pesky turnover problem. The Liberty had 14 turnovers, on par with their 15.5 average per game, and Chicago had nine steals.
Even though New York drilled its early 3-pointers, it wasn't going to be enough when Chicago could hit an easy shot any trip down the court. Though the Liberty's defense tightened in the third quarter, giving up 14 points compared to 25 and 29, the offense couldn't take advantage. They missed 5 of 11 attempts in the paint. The missed opportunities added up.
Ionescu came alive to start the fourth with a five-point surge that cut the lead in half from 10. It was a 9-0 run by New York that Chicago successfully answered with forwards Emma Meesseman, who forced Ionescu into a travel in the corner that shifted momentum, and Parker took over.
Betnijah Laney led all Liberty scorers with 15 points going 6-of-11. Ionescu scored 14 points, but on an inefficient 6-of-15 and 2-of-7 from 3-point range. She had six rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block. Natasha Howard had a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double. Center Stefanie Dolson scored only four on four attempts.
Marine Johannès dazzles sold-out Barclays Center again
Johannès set the tone early for New York and brought a sold-out Barclays Center to a roaring crescendo with back-to-back 3-pointers in the first quarter.
The French national added a third in the final minute for a 3-of-3 start and nearly half of the Liberty's first-quarter points. Johannès, who missed the first month of the season while with Lyon in the Ligue Feminine de Basketball Finals, was put in the starting lineup for the first time since a 10-game span in June and July. Crystal Dangerfield made the first two starts for New York.
The pairing of Johannès, Ionescu, Laney, Howard and Stefanie Dolson played together 20 minutes this season (largely due to injuries) and seven minutes over the first 80 minutes of the series. The lineup switch opened up the offense and took pressure off of Ionescu, who faced successful pressure from Sky guards Kahleah Copper and Rebekah Gardner in the blowout Game 2 loss.
Johannès' passes have dazzled fans, including her comeback-sparking behind-the-back dish in Game 1. But her future in the WNBA is in question with the new prioritization clause in the collective bargaining agreement. She opted out of the the 2020 bubble season and stayed home with her French national team last year ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, where they won bronze. Under the new CBA rule, she would be fined for a late arrival and in 2024 would be suspended for missing training camp.
Sky vs. Liberty series results
Game 1: Liberty 98, Sky 91
Game 2: Sky 100, Liberty 62
Game 3: Sky 90, Liberty 72
Games 1: Sunday, Aug. 28
Connecticut/Dallas at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Games 2: Wednesday, Aug. 31
Connecticut/Dallas at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Games 3: Sunday, Sept. 4
Chicago at Connecticut/Dallas, 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Games 4: Tuesday, Sept. 6 (if necessary)
Chicago at Connecticut/Dallas, TBD on ESPN2
Games 5: Thursday, Sept. 8 (if necessary)
Connecticut/Dallas at Chicago, TBD on ESPN2
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