CHICAGO — A double-digit scoring outburst from Kahleah Copper in the first quarter immediately squashed concerns about her apparent ankle injury and helped lead the Chicago Sky to a record rout of the New York Liberty 100-62 in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon.
The 38-point win is the largest margin of victory in WNBA playoff history and forces the series to Brooklyn for a decisive Game 3 on Tuesday.
After the Liberty pulled off a fourth quarter comeback to win Game 1 on the road and put the defending champions on the brink of elimination, the Sky responded in dominant fashion to even the series. Chicago never trailed, led by 24 points at halftime and notched 100 points during a playoff game for the fourth time in franchise history.
“It was a wake-up call for us,” Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot, who finished with 16 points, said about losing Game 1. “We shouldn’t have had to have it, but we did, and it woke us up.
“We came into this game with a different mentality. We knew that what got us through games in the regular season wasn’t going to do the same in the playoffs. We were able to take it up another notch and I think you saw a different team tonight.”
Copper, who finished the game with 20 points, set the tone from the start of Saturday’s game to help Chicago take control from the outset. She knocked down a 3-pointer for the game’s opening basket and scored the Sky’s first five points. Copper, the reigning WNBA Finals MVP, finished with 10 points in the first quarter, matching her largest scoring total in any opening quarter this season, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.
Copper’s health for this game was in question after she left the end of practice Friday with a non-contact ankle injury, requiring assistance from teammates to exit the floor. Despite the incident, Sky coach James Wade repeatedly declined to offer more information about her status in the lead-up to the game, reiterating before Saturday’s game that “she’s fine.”
“She came out aggressive,” Wade said after the game. “I think the world was put upside down yesterday, so she just came out and let everybody know that she’s still Copper.”
Added Copper: “I was a little upset about the loss, but I think that’s me consistently every game. I definitely approached this game with a chip on my shoulder, you know, we lost at home in front of our crowd who shows up consistently and gives us everything. So, it was important for us to respond.”
And the Sky responded with overwhelming defensive pressure on the Liberty.
In the first half, Chicago forced New York into 13 turnovers compared to just nine field goals. The Sky forced 14 steals overall, one short of a franchise record for steals in a playoff game, and outscored the Liberty 33-5 in transition and 60-24 in the paint.
New York had just two players — Michaela Onyenwere and Han Xu — finish in double figures. Meanwhile, Chicago neutralized Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu, who finished with seven points on 3-for-5 shooting with as many turnovers (3) as assists.
The Sky had much better success sending double-teams at Ionescu in Game 2, limiting New York to 1-for-8 shooting (0-of-2 on 3s) for two points and two turnovers on double-teams compared to 6-for-12 with 15 points and no turnovers when sending help in Game 1.
“Chicago responded the way championship teams respond,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “Our turnovers were just really silly to be quite honest and through a lack of ball movement. I just didn’t think we played together as a team.”
Chicago has won three consecutive games facing elimination, dating back to last year’s pair of single elimination games they won en route to the championship. Despite being the higher seed, the Sky will have to win on the road Tuesday to advance to the WNBA semifinals in the first season under the league’s new playoff format.
“We still have one more game,” Brondello said. “May the best team win.”
“If we play like that, it doesn’t matter where we play,” Wade added. “We can play on the moon, but we have to be who we’re going to be. That’ll dictate everything.”
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