The story going into the Chicago Sky’s first-round playoff game against the Dallas Wings on Thursday night was experience versus youth.
Sky players stepped onto the court at Wintrust Arena with over 100 playoff games between them. The Wings, the youngest team in the WNBA, had just four players who had ever been in the postseason.
The Sky, clearly, had been here before. But no one had experienced more games like these in a Sky uniform than Courtney Vandersloot, a staple of Chicago’s backcourt since the team drafted her with the third pick in 2011.
Vandersloot isn’t known for her scoring. The assists leader in the WNBA this year, she holds nearly every league record when it comes to passing. So it was somewhat surprising that of the 26 points the Sky scored in the fourth quarter, Vandersloot had 11 of them, helping seal the team’s 81-64 win over Dallas to advance to play the Minnesota Lynx in the second round Sunday.
“I was being aggressive towards the end of the game and my teammates were finding me,” Vandersloot said. “Things opened up for me late. They’re always harping on me to be aggressive and go for mine, so I showed them that I could do that.”
Vandersloot’s buckets in the fourth quarter were insurance for the Sky, but they were also crucial to putting the Wings away. Chicago led by as many as 19 points in the second quarter while holding Dallas to under 30 percent shooting from the field, but the Wings climbed out of that hole after halftime to get within five.
Arike Ogunbowale kept the Wings nipping at the Sky’s heels late, hitting a 3-pointer with 4:23 left in the fourth quarter to cut their lead to 68-63. The third-year guard led Dallas with 22 points on 5-for-10 shooting from deep in her playoff debut.
Vandersloot’s final stat line (17 points, eight rebounds, six assists) isn’t as flashy, but it was the awareness she showed to go at the rim when the Sky needed it most that impressed her head coach.
Gotta love a #Vanderquigz connection 💙 pic.twitter.com/P2r0hBDt4v— Chicago Sky (@chicagosky) September 24, 2021
Gotta love a #Vanderquigz connection 💙 pic.twitter.com/P2r0hBDt4v
“I thought this was a good game for her because a lot of times your name is billed in the playoffs,” said James Wade. “Especially at the end where we were kind of struggling to score and she put the ball in her hands and did some crazy things … I thought it was good for her confidence to know that she’s that type of player.”
The Sky will need Vandersloot to contribute in multiple ways if they’re going to get through the Lynx and to the semifinals for the first time since 2016.
From a team perspective, Candace Parker liked what she saw Thursday night. After the Sky went 2-7 to start this season, losing seven straight games when Parker was sidelined with an injury, and turned things around to earn the sixth seed in the playoffs, the veteran appreciates the small wins, especially at this time of year.
“I loved how we handled adversity tonight. In the past, I don’t know if we would have continued to come together just through the ups and downs of the season,” Parker said. “So I think it’s giving me hope because that’s what the playoffs are, like it’s a game of runs. … Us learning that lesson of what we did right to get the run, but also what we did right to get out of it, I was really proud of that.”
Vandersloot’s uncharacteristic scoring touch helped the Sky hold the Wings’ run at bay. And the passing? That’s not going anywhere.
“She’s done things in this league that nobody has done,” Wade said. “Having these types of games in the playoffs only adds to the legend.”
the no look...the and 1...🤗 pic.twitter.com/ytUoirtikn— Chicago Sky (@chicagosky) September 24, 2021
the no look...the and 1...🤗 pic.twitter.com/ytUoirtikn