As the general public address announcer at Barclays Center called the names of the Chicago Sky starters, the deafening boos of the white-knuckled Liberty fans filling the stands drowned out his voice.
Boos are typical for any team playing in an opposing arena but unusual for one just like the Sky, who tied for the league’s best record within the regular season and, on tonight, were within the decisive game of a playoff series against a team that sneaked into the playoffs because the seventh seed. Home-court advantage in big moments is purported to be the reward for having a greater record. Not this time.
The W.N.B.A. switched playoff formats this season, replacing a single-elimination opening round with best-of-three series that put the lower seed at home in Game 3. Sky Coach James Wade has said that he’s “not a fan of it in any respect.”
Still, the raucous environment didn’t appear to trouble the No. 2-seeded Sky on Tuesday. With the boos raining down, the starters went through their special handshake routines with guard Kahleah Copper, then propelled Chicago to a 90-72 victory over the Liberty in Game 3 to win their first-round series. The Sky advanced to the semifinals, where they may play the winner of Wednesday night’s matchup between the Connecticut Sun and the Dallas Wings.
Chicago won its first-ever championship last season and, with a win this yr, can be the primary W.N.B.A. team to repeat because the Los Angeles Sparks in 2002.
On Tuesday, Copper and guard Allie Quigley led the Sky with 15 points apiece, and forward Candace Parker added a near triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Betnijah Laney led the Liberty with 15 points.
Quigley said the group energy played a task in the sport and that she wished the Sky could have hosted the primary and final games, as an alternative of the primary two. “I do remember the group at one point and just all of the towels flying, and I’m like, ‘All right, we’ve got to figure it out,’” Quigley said with amusing.
Sabrina Ionescu, the Liberty’s All-Star guard, didn’t have much of an impact in the primary three quarters, with just 9 points. But even along with her low-scoring output, the Liberty were only down 10 points after the third quarter. When the ultimate period began, Ionescu attacked the basket and scored 2 points while drawing a foul. She missed the free throw, but collected the rebound a couple of steps behind the 3-point line and launched the ball, scoring again.
The three-pointer sent the group right into a frenzy. The Sky called a timeout, and fans swung Liberty towels within the air and roared. After Wade addressed the team, Parker huddled along with her teammates and spoke emphatically before the group returned to the ground.
Parker missed a 3-pointer out of the timeout, and the Liberty got the rebound. Laney hit a layup to chop the Sky result in 3, reigniting the group. However the run ended there. The Sky scored 16 unanswered points, which effectively ended the sport.
The Sky fell apart in Game 1, losing after the Liberty went on a 13-0 run within the fourth quarter. But Chicago has played like a distinct team since.
“I feel we saw a version of ourselves that we fell in love with,” Copper said, “and that we would like to grow on, and there’s just no going back.”
The Sky set a W.N.B.A. playoff record for the biggest margin of victory with a 38-point win against the Liberty in Game 2.
“We done set the tone, so anything under that’s just unacceptable,” Copper said. “We know the way we would like to play, and we all know what we’re able to. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Despite the 18-point margin of victory in Game 3, the win didn’t come easily, even from the beginning. The Liberty responded to a lot of the Sky’s scores early, keeping the sport tight for much of the primary quarter.
Copper, who willed the Sky to their Game 2 victory, helped Chicago stay ahead in the primary quarter with a steal and 6 points that included a tricky layup over the outstretched arms of multiple Liberty defenders. Sky guards Courtney Vandersloot and Quigley helped extend the lead with 21 of the Sky’s 54 points in the primary half. Vandersloot also had 4 assists in the primary half.
Liberty Coach Sandy Brondello said “the more experienced team won tonight.” But she was happy with how her team bounced back from the 38-point loss in Game 2 and is looking forward to improving next season, she said.
“Even once we were losing, we thought we were recuperating,” Brondello said. She added: “I feel with a couple of extra players, we might be more aggressive, and that may help us moving forward.”
Liberty forward Natasha Howard, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds, said she was impressed with how the team remained focused despite losing games and coping with the various “ups and downs” of the 2022 season. Laney, who missed a lot of the season with a knee injury, echoed Howard.
“I feel we grew lots individually and as a team,” Laney said, “and that’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to take a team to return out and get to the goal we would like.”