Friday, March 1, 2024

Sky vs. Liberty score, takeaways: Chicago holds off New York’s comeback attempt in Game 3 to reach semifinals

The defending champion Chicago Sky are still alive. Late on Tuesday night, they rebuffed the New York Liberty’s fourth-quarter comeback attempt and pulled away down the stretch for a 90-72 win in the deciding Game 3 of their first-round series. The Sky will now await the winner of the Connecticut Sun vs. Dallas Wings series in the semifinals.

After a competitive start to the game, the Sky gained control late in the first quarter and eventually pushed their lead to double digits at the half. The Liberty were able to stay within reach, though, and early in the fourth quarter went on their first big run of the game to briefly cut the deficit to three points. That turned out to be as close as they would get, as the Sky dominated from that point on and secured what was ultimately a rather comfortable win. 

Candace Parker led the way for the Sky, finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and two blocks in a near triple-double. Courtney Vandersloot, meanwhile, went for 14 points, five rebounds and 10 assists in one of her typical performances. The Sky had six different players in double figures and forced 15 turnovers, which they turned into 23 points. 

Natasha Howard had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Liberty in defeat, while Sabrina Ionescu went for 14 points, six rebounds and four assists. Betnijah Laney added 15 points and five rebounds. The Liberty played well down the stretch in the regular season and in this series, but they ultimately just didn’t have enough to take down the defending champs. 

Here are some key takeaways from the game:

Parker, Vandersloot lead the way

The very first time the Sky had the ball, Courtney Vandersloot and Candace Parker played a little hot potato before the former darted into the paint and scooped in a tough layup. A few possessions later, Vandersloot spotted Parker in space under the basket and fired a pinpoint pass over the defense which the veteran forward was able to turn into another two points. 

Parker to Vandersloot, Vandersloot to Parker. Those first two baskets foreshadowed how the rest of the rest of the night would go. When you’re facing elimination you need your best players to stand up and be counted, and Parker and Vandersloot were ready when their names were called. 

The veteran duo led the way early and late, as the Sky moved to 4-0 when facing elimination in the last two postseasons. Parker nearly became the third player in WNBA history to have a triple-double in the playoffs (Vandersloot is one of the two to have pulled off the feat) and finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Vandersloot, meanwhile, went for 14 points, five rebounds and 10 assists. 

Liberty can’t complete this comeback

In Game 1, the Liberty stunned the Sky on the road with a late fourth-quarter comeback that included a 13-0 run to close the game. For a brief period in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, it looked like we might be in for another dramatic ending. The Sky had other ideas.

Down by as much as 14 in the third quarter, the Liberty cut the deficit to a manageable 10 points heading into the fourth, then started the frame on a 7-0 run highlighted by a ridiculous 3-pointer by Sabrina Ionescu. The Barclays Center — hosting its first ever WNBA playoff game — was alive, and the Liberty had all the momentum.

What they didn’t have was the same amount talent, experience and comfort in big moments as the Sky. The next six minutes and 11 seconds were a masterclass from the Sky, as they ripped off an 16-0 run to put the game away. Their passing, shot-making and defensive intensity were all on a level the Liberty just could not match. As fun as this series was at times, that stretch was a reminder why the Sky were tied for the best record in the league at 26-10 and the Liberty snuck into the playoffs at 16-20. 

Sky’s repeat quest rolls on

After losing Game 1 at home in a short best-of-three series, the Sky left themselves no margin of error, especially with the bizarre 2-1 format in the first-round. To their credit, they regrouped and showed in Games 2 and 3 why they were one of the best teams in the league all season long. 

Now, their repeat quest rolls on to the semifinals where they’ll await the winner of the Connecticut Sun vs. Dallas Wings series. Those two teams are set for a winner-take-all Game 3 in Dallas on Wednesday night. During the regular season, the Sky were 4-0 against the Sun and 2-1 against the Wings. They would much rather face the latter, though, as they barely squeaked past the Sun in the semifinals last season. 

Regardless of who they face, the Sky now need just six more wins to become the first team to repeat as WNBA champions since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002. Not even the Minnesota Lynx, who won four titles in a seven-year span in the 2010s were able to pull off a repeat — that’s how hard it is to do in this league. 

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