LAS VEGAS — The Sky will play in their biggest game of the year Sunday.
That was interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever message as he concluded the team’s last practice before they face elimination against the Aces in Game 2. The turmoil the Sky faced is what they believe makes them qualified to flip the script on the Aces and force a decisive Game 3 back in Chicago.
“[The mentality] don’t change,” Courtney Williams said. “We’ve been do-or-die all season long. Our backs have been against the wall. So, we just have to do what we do.”
The fact remains that it’s going to take as close to a perfect game from the Sky as they can get just to hang with the No. 1 Aces. More specifically, the Sky’s backcourt trio needs to show up.
Three-time All-Star Kahleah Copper was the only player who scored in double figures in Game 1, while Marina Mabrey and Williams combined for just 16 points while shooting 7-for-21 from the field.
“Their guards are a handful,” Becky Hammon said after her team’s 87-59 Game 1 victory. “Our guards played great defense. Our bigs played great defense. It takes a whole team to guard that trip.”
In the Sky’s three regular-season games against the Aces — which MVP candidate A’ja Wilson said were three incomplete games on her team’s part — Copper and Mabrey largely led the way.
Copper averaged 22.6 points, including scoring a career-high 37 points in July, against the Aces during the regular season. Mabrey, who was back at practice with the Sky on Saturday after missing a day because of an illness, averaged 17.6 points in their three-game series. Williams was less effective scoring against the Aces during the season but in all three meetings finished with at least five assists, including a double-double of 11 points and 11 assists in July.
The Sky were swept by the Aces during the season by a margin of 10.6 points, pointing back to the level of perfection required simply to make things interesting.
“You have to stay confident in what you do,” Williams said. “I pride myself on not just having to score. I know I can affect the game in so many other ways. We’ve shown that we can win games with not necessarily having the greatest shooting night. It’s a matter of our effort and doing the little things.”
Against the Aces, who boasted the WNBA’s top-scoring offense for the fourth consecutive year, effective shooting percentage will matter, as will taking at least one of the Aces’ four leading scorers out of their game.
Chelsea Gray had a game-high 20 points against the Sky in Game 1 while Wilson, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum all finished scoring in double figures. Wilson’s 14 points, below her 22.8 regular-season average, were the fewest of the core four and it still was far from enough to even put a dent in the Aces’ offensive firepower.
Alysha Clark had 13 points, shooting 2-for-3 from deep coming off the Aces bench.
“It’s just about making it hard,” Elizabeth Williams said. “But you also have to do a great job of not letting role players have a big impact.”
The Sky have not been shy about their pride in earning the eighth seed in the playoffs given the way the season unfolded. But, when considering the bigger picture, simply making the playoffs is not something they are finding satisfaction in.
“Yeah, we’re happy to be here,” Copper said. “But we want to continue to go up. It’s not like we’re just like, ‘We made it, [expletive] it, whatever.’ We want to make it and make an impact and we want to go to the next round.”