Azurá Stevens a ‘huge game-changer’ for Sky in playoff win over Lynx

(Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

If there’s one thing the WNBA playoffs have proved, it’s that for the first time since 2018, Azurá Stevens isn’t going anywhere.

Before this year, the Chicago Sky forward hadn’t finished a full season since she was a rookie because of injuries. On Sunday, she not only suited up for the Sky’s second-round playoff game — she was a critical factor in the win. With 15 points and eight rebounds, Stevens helped No. 6 Chicago to an 89-76 upset of the third-ranked Minnesota Lynx.

Most notably, she shut down four-time Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles throughout the second half.

“I mean, she was big,” Chicago coach James Wade said of Stevens after the game. “It seems all the five offensive rebounds that she got were key moments, and they were really important.”

This wasn’t the first time Minnesota was a victim of Stevens at the rim. She set a new career mark of six offensive rebounds against the Lynx in 2019, and followed that up with 11 total rebounds against them in 2020.

In Thursday’s playoff game against the Dallas Wings, her former team, the 25-year-old put up six points and six rebounds. Through the regular season, she averaged 7.3 points and 4.6 rebounds, almost matching her first-year average of 8.9 points and 4.6 rebounds that earned her a spot on the 2018 All-Rookie Team.

Before suffering a knee injury in 2020, Stevens produced double-digit scoring in eight of the 13 games she played. The 6-foot-6 forward still finished third in the WNBA last year in blocks per game.

“We expected a lot from [Azurá] today, and I think the biggest thing was extra possessions,” said Sky teammate Courtney Vandersloot. “Getting five offensive rebounds for us, I mean that’s a huge game-changer, and to be able to do that against one of the best rebounders in the history of the league is huge for us.”

Stevens, a former UConn Husky, will return to Connecticut when the Sky play the Sun in Game 1 of the semifinals Tuesday. The Sky, having survived the single-elimination phase of the playoffs, now begin a best-of-five series against the top seed.

Against a team that makes up 40 percent of the 2021 WNBA All-Defensive Team, Stevens’ offensive rebounding efforts will be paramount. Chicago is 2-1 against Connecticut this season, claiming two-thirds of the Sun’s six losses.

The Sky and Sun will tip off at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.