By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald
And, just like that, the Chicago Sky’s promising season ended earlier than expected.
On Monday, the Sky, a 20-win team seeded second in the Eastern Conference, was eliminated from the WNBA playoffs by third-seeded Indiana, a team it had swept 4-0 during the regular season.
The disappointment in the interview room later was clear to see. The Sky, which advanced to the WNBA Finals last year and expected at least that much this season, was a bit shellshocked. I give credit to Sky forward Elena Delle Donne for trying to find a positive just moments after the final buzzer.
“This has been by far my favorite team to play on,” Delle Donne said. “It’s such a special group of players. That’s what will stand out the most.
“It’s just the chemistry. It’s something you really can’t put words to. I’ve been on teams before where we’ve done team-building exercises, trust falls and all that stuff. This team, we didn’t have to fake it or do a single thing to build what we have with one another, and that’s what’s so special. Everyone is so unique and different but somehow we’ve all come together and formed a family.”
Important for sure. Team chemistry will go a long way to building a champion. But let’s be honest, the Sky needs more than warm fuzzies to prevent another early exit next season.
The Sky needs some defense, which was a big issue all season.
The Fever, a team that averaged an unremarkable 78 points per game and was an average shooting team (42 percent), scored 100 points and shot a blistering 58 percent from the field in the Game 3 clincher at Allstate Arena.
That was the Sky’s problem in a nutshell. For most of the season, the Sky led the WNBA in opponents’ scoring average (79 ppg).
“Obviously, our defense was something that was up and down and inconsistent all season and tonight that showed,” Delle Donne said after the Game 3 loss.
The loss of all-star center Sylvia Fowles (midseason trade to Minnesota) hurt most from a defensive standpoint. Her shot-blocking, shot-changing abilities and presence in the lane were underestimated.
While perimeter players such as Delle Donne, point guard Courtney Vandersloot and reserve guard Allie Quigley were good on offense, each of them, at times, was a step slow on defense. Frequent breakdowns on the perimeter put pressure on the defense.
Guard Cappie Pondexter, who was brought here via a trade with New York for guard Epiphanny Prince, says the difference between making the playoffs and winning a championship will come down to personal accountability during the off-season.
She should know. She won two titles with Phoenix.
“Individually, when it comes to defense, it’s something that has to do with pride,” Pondexter said. “Just wanting to get stops. It’s not about skill always — a lot of it is each person and wanting to get those stops.
“We’ve got to get better.”
Time is ticking for Pondexter, a Chicago native who was excited to play in her hometown. She is in her 10th season and has battled injuries the last few years. She knows she’s in the twilight of her career and she has a sense of urgency. You could see it in the huddles as she sternly encouraged her teammates to work harder on defense.
“All of our goals that we had listed from the beginning of the year haven’t (been reached). But that doesn’t mean we should stop to individually get better,” Pondexter said. “We’ll remember what our goals are going forward and the sky is the limit.
“I think we’re solid. I like our core. I think we’re tough. We’re going to get better in the off-season. (Delle Donne) told me we’re going to win a ring together, and I believe that.”
So D-up, Sky! Defense might win you a championship.