One thing was evident early within the Game 2 playoff matchup between the Chicago Sky and the Liberty: If the Sky were going to lose their first-round series, it could not be due to Kahleah Copper.
Copper looked wanting to get the sport going before tipoff on Saturday, bouncing up and down on the court, clapping her hands and energetically talking with teammates. After the ball was tipped, she blew by Liberty defenders for tough layups, yelled after the finishes and took on the challenge of guarding Sabrina Ionescu, the Liberty’s All-Star guard.
Copper finished with 10 points in the primary quarter, matching the Liberty’s total rating and propelling Chicago to a 21-point lead that each one but ended the sport. The Liberty never recovered from Copper’s first-quarter barrage and the Sky won, 100-62, to tie the best-of-three series at one game apiece. Game 3 is on Tuesday at Barclays Center.
“I definitely approached this game with a chip on my shoulder,” Copper said. “We lost at home in front of our crowd who shows up consistently and provides us all the things, so it was necessary for us to reply.”
Sky Coach James Wade said the Game 1 loss woke the team up, inspiring them to play Saturday’s game with an intensity that matched how the team had approached games throughout the season. Guard Courtney Vandersloot echoed Wade’s sentiments and said that they got here into the sport with a “different mentality.”
“I believe you saw a special team tonight, and we feel like a special team,” she said.
Copper ignited the group in the primary quarter after she connected on a corner 3-pointer in front of the Sky bench, turned, and ran down the ground with three fingers raised. She gave Wade a high five as she passed him. The Liberty called timeout.
The Sky’s 38-point win set a W.N.B.A. record for the biggest margin of victory in playoff history. (The Sky held the previous record, with a 36-point victory in Game 3 of last 12 months’s finals against the Phoenix Mercury.)
“I expected this from Chicago, but I didn’t think it could be such a butt-kicking,” Liberty Coach Sandy Brondello said. She added that she was disillusioned with the way in which the Liberty let Copper and other players “drive right by them,” together with their poor decision-making and 19 turnovers.
“We’re not built like them,” she said. “We don’t have a Copper that may drive by anyone. Our one-on-one defense must be higher.”
The Sky won their first W.N.B.A. championship in 2021 largely due to Copper’s fearless playing style and her ability to raise her game — and that of her teammates — in the most important moments. After the Sky lost Game 2 of the finals last season, Copper outscored the Mercury’s starting five in the primary half of Game 3. She was named the most precious player of the finals.
So, with the Sky on the point of elimination on Saturday, Copper performed how her teammates and Wade expected her to. And Wade made point of calling out a recent ESPN rating that listed Copper because the seventeenth best player within the playoffs. “I do know she’s probably the seventeenth best player within the playoffs without delay, but you already know, we’ll take that 17,” Wade deadpanned.
Copper’s scores got here from quite a lot of acrobatic layups by which she twisted and turned within the air before ending. She has turn into known for her superb touch across the basket, which Vandersloot said is somewhat unlucky because Copper’s stellar finishes have turn into expected.
“She has such a singular ability to complete through contact, and thru multiple players, and he or she makes it look easy and what she’s doing isn’t easy,” Vandersloot said. “But you already know, she’s sort of our engine, and when she’s doing that, we’re special.”
Copper’s crucial performance got here a day after the Sky looked like they might need to play without her. She left the Sky’s Friday practice early after an unspecified injury. Wade dismissed questions on the injury and told reporters before the sport on Saturday that she was “high-quality.” Copper looked healthy as she led all scorers with 20 points, and nagged the Liberty — especially Ionescu — everywhere in the court, earning three steals. Wade said Copper’s ability to play each ends of the ground is what makes her special, and that her defense is an undervalued a part of her game.
“Her ability to be disruptive after which, on the opposite end, get us a bucket and truly draw the defense in, it sets a tone,” Wade said. “And the tone is what we want, and he or she was in a position to do this tonight, and he or she does that almost all nights for us.”
Michaela Onyenwere said Chicago “exploited” them in multiple ways, mainly with their toughness. That was essentially the most disappointing aspect of the loss since the Liberty expected the Sky to play that way but “faltered to the pressure,” she said.
“I believe just taking a look at ourselves first, I believe, is the very first thing we start with,” she said. “Proceed to play together and proceed to know that that is our season that’s on the road. So you already know, I feel wholeheartedly that we are going to respond higher than we did today.”
The loss for the seventh-seeded Liberty got here after they stunned the No. 2-seeded Sky in Chicago in the primary game of the series on Wednesday. In that game, the Liberty held Chicago scoreless for the ultimate 3 minutes 31 seconds and went on a 13-0 run, winning 98-91. But on Saturday they didn’t seem like the team that achieved that feat; Brondello said it was because “we went away from what we wanted to perform here and playing together as a team.”
She added: “However it’s nice to know now we have, you already know, now we have yet one more game, and hopefully, we are able to bring a greater effort and hopefully the result will likely be positive.”