Professional Basketball

Sky, Mercury advance to WNBA Playoffs Round 2

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The Chicago Sky and the Phoenix Mercury advanced out of the First Round of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs Thursday night and will visit their Round Two opponents for Sunday’s single-elimination games.

Chicago Sky 81 Dallas Wings 64

Chicago opened the scoring at their home stadium, Wintrust Arena, with two early baskets before Dallas went on a 5-0 run. This was answered by a Sky 11-0 run to take a 19-9 lead with just under three minutes left to play in the opening quarter. Sky forward Kahleah Copper scored 12 points of her 23 total points, in the first frame, which had the Sky leading 25-14.

The Sky pushed a 9-0 run to extend its double-digit lead to 21 points when center Azura Stevens scored on a putback layup. The score was 37-16 with 5:11 remaining in the half. Dallas responded with a 9-0 run and guard Moriah Jefferson scored on a running pull up jumper as time expired. The Sky led 44-29 at halftime.

Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale nailed a three-pointer with 8:50 remaining in the quarter to begin the scoring for Dallas. Then her teammate, forward Satou Sabally got the hot hand and scored seven of Dallas’s next 10 points. Additional baskets by Ogunbowale and guard Marina Mabrey cut the deficit to four points making the score 51-47 in favor of Chicago with 3:16 left in the third quarter.

Wings forward Allisha Gray hit a floating bank shot with 9:17 left in the fourth quarter to pull Dallas to within three points, 55-52, but it would be the closest they came to erasing the earlier 21-point deficit. For the next five minutes, both teams traded buckets before Chicago started to pull away with it as guard Courtney Vandersloot scored seven points in a 13-1 run to close out the game.

The seventh-seeded Wings were eliminated from the playoffs when the final buzzer sounded and Chicago pulled off an 81-64 win.
Four Sky players scored in double figures with Copper (23 points), Vandersloot (17 points), guard Allie Quigley (15 points) and forward Candace Parker (11 points), while Ogunbowale (22 points) and Sabally (12 points) led the Wings. Parker led all rebounders with 15, while Isabelle Harrison led the Wings with 10 boards.

“On the defensive end, we were able to shut down what their guards wanted to do,” said Sky head coach James Wade. “They weren’t able to move as freely as they would have liked. It was a good game for us all and all because that’s a good team in the other locker room.”
Sky forward Candace Parker said, “In the past, I don’t know if we would have continued to come together just through the ups and downs of the season. I loved how we handled adversity tonight.”

The sixth-seeded Sky will travel to Minnesota for a second round single-elimination game against the third seeded Lynx at 4 p.m. CT on Sunday. The game will be televised on ESPN 2.

Phoenix Mercury 83 New York Liberty 82

The Phoenix Mercury advanced to the second round of the 2021 WNBA playoffs on the back of guard Sophie Cunningham’s career-high 21 points, as they held on for an 83-82 win over the New York Liberty on Thursday night at Grand Canyon University Arena in Phoenix.

The Mercury jumped out to an early 16-5 lead in the first five minutes of the game, but this was answered by a 15-4 Liberty run to end the first quarter with a 24-23 Phoenix advantage.

The second quarter began with New York continuing at the pace where it left off from the quarter break with a 9-2 run in the first three minutes and took a 32-26 lead. Phoenix answered with seven unanswered points midway through the frame. At halftime, New York led 41-37.

Phoenix came charging back thanks to 12 points from Cunningham, who hit three three-pointers and three free-throws in the third quarter. At the end of the third quarter, Phoenix led 60-58.

The fourth quarter started as a dogfight as both teams traded baskets and leads. With the score tied at 71 and 5:10 remaining on the clock, Phoenix went on an 8-0 run to take an 82-79 lead with 50.6 seconds left.

Liberty forward Betnijah Laney hit a three pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 82 with only 2.7 seconds remaining in the game. Phoenix responded by getting the ball to forward Brianna Turner underneath the basket, forcing New York guard Sami Whitcomb to foul with 0.4 seconds remaining.

“[There are] a lot of things that I want to say about the officiating in the WNBA, about the lack of respect this team has gotten all season, but I can’t say them because referees are above reproach,” said Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins. “They don’t have to go to a press conference after games. They don’t have to explain the mistakes they made or why they did what they did. It’s a bad season. The way they treated us was bad and that’s my story.”

The first free throw rimmed out. She connected on the second free throw for a one-point Phoenix advantage, ensuring that the game would not go into overtime. New York guard Sabrina Ionescu heaved a desperation cross-court shot that fell short.

Phoenix had four players in double-figures scoring – guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (22 points), Cunningham (21 points), center Brittney Griner (16 points) and Turner (12 points). New York also had four players in double-digits scoring – Laney (25 points), center Natasha Howard (16 points), Ionescu (14 points) and forward Rebecca Allen (11 points). Howard and Griner each led their respective teams with 10 rebounds each.

Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said, “They made us work for it. I’m just happy that we were able to survive that.”

Regarding Cunningham’s career night, Brondello added, “She’s not afraid. She works really hard. I’m really happy for Sophie. It was her night tonight.”

The fifth-seeded Mercury travels to Seattle for a second round single-elimination game against the fourth-seeded Storm at 2 p.m. CT on Sunday. The game will be televised on ABC.

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