Courtside Blog - July 29 vs. Sparks

Hey there Sky fans, welcome to the second half of the season! This is Dave, sitting courtside for tonight’s contest between the Sky and the Los Angeles Sparks. The Sky is looking to put one in the win column after heading to the All-Star break with back-to-back losses, and there’s no better place to do that than here at the UIC Pavilion, where the Sky has lost only two games this year.

How about that All-Star game?! It was great to see so the Sky so well-represented last weekend. In case you missed the game, Candice Dupree had 12 points, Jia Perkins scored 16 and Sylvia Fowles scored 17—including a huge dunk late in the fourth quarter! It was a great weekend for the team as well as the league as the WNBA got its chance to showcase its talent in front of a national audience.

Although she’s wearing the visiting team’s jersey, Candace Parker probably feels right at home for this one. The Naperville native makes her second professional appearance in the “Windy City” tonight, and I’ll bet she’s ready to put on a show for the hometown crowd. It’ll also be entertaining to watch her go up against Fowles, just like the two did in college.

Coach Key’s pregame thoughts on one of Los Angeles’ biggest strengths—their size: “We’re going to have to contend with their size all night. They’ve got a few lineups where the shortest player is still six feet tall. We hope to counter that with some speed and quickness in our lineup. We have to make sure that when they come down on offense, if they get one shot, that’s the only one they get on that possession.”

There is plenty of size on the Los Angeles side, as Key said, but one major piece of that size is Lisa Leslie, who remains out of the lineup with an injury. The return of Parker has helped, but Candace is still not up to 100 percent, and she still may be a few games away from reaching that level. Still, there is enough size and talent on the Sparks roster to provide the Sky with a good challenge this evening—and here we go with the tip!

First possession goes to Sylvia! After beating Parker on the tip, she made a nice drive into the paint and banked one in off the glass—all with Parker defending. That’s a great start for the Sky, and should help gain some early momentum in that matchup.

Sylvia just got her second foul, with 6:30 left in the first. As Chen Nan checked into the game for Fowles, Los Angeles head coach Michael Cooper yelled a play at his team, designed to go right after Chen. Lindsay Harrower attempted to set a screen on Chen, but she slipped through it and got back in her defensive spot—a smart play by Chen. We’re now down to 4:39 in the first quarter, its 18-12, with Los Angeles leading.

There aren’t too many things standing out in this quarter so far—just a lot of good basketball being played. Each team has only been guilty of one turnover, and each team is shooting near 50 percent. At the end of one, Los Angeles leads 22-19. The Sky’s bench has been playing well as four of the five players that closed the first quarter did not start.

Shyra Ely had 10 points off the bench in the Sky’s last game against Washington, and she’s back at it again! Since entering the game late in the first quarter, she’s scored a quick eight points to lead the Sky to the lead. With 5:46 to go in the half, the Sky has taken a 32-27 lead. Combine Shyra’s points with four from Nan and three from Erin Thorn, and the Sky’s bench has scored 15 points in the first 15 minutes of the game!

Late in the second quarter, I had a front row seat for a brief debate between Coach Cooper and an Official. After Parker was called for a foul, Cooper jumped off the bench yelling, “No! C’mon, she went straight up!” The referee looked back at Cooper and calmly replied, “No, she didn’t.” The scoring has slowed down, but Chicago still leads 35-27, with 3:03 left.

And as the first half ends, DeLisha Milton-Jones commits a very, very bad foul—bumping Dominique Canty as she attempted a buzzer-beater from beyond half-court. The officials are looking at the tape to make sure the foul happened before time ran out, but I’m pretty sure Canty will have three free throw attempts.

They’re putting 0.4 seconds back on the clock. Meanwhile, Milton-Jones is trying to plead her case to the official, but he’s having none of it. Canty hits all three shots, and we head to the half with a 40-33 Sky lead! Shyra’s 10-point performance leads all scorers and the Sky are looking good so far in this one. Seems like the All-Star break came at just the right time!

With all starters back on the court, they’re taking over the scoring! Jia and Sylvia both have 11 points now, while Canty is up to eight after two smooth drives to the lane for two easy layups. Halfway through the third, the Sky leads 54-42!

Much like the first half, there haven’t been many plays that have stood out for the Sky; they are just doing a lot of little things well. They’re moving the ball around, not taking bad shots, getting good dribble-penetration to open up perimeter shots—and that’s all added up to a 58-48 Sky lead, with 1:40 left in the third. They’re also doing great on defense, holding Parker to just six points. Coach Key mentioned second chance points as a big stat—and they’ve held the Sparks to just three.

Again, the Sky closes out a quarter with four starters on the bench, and again, they keep performing. We’ll head to the fourth with the Sky in front 58-48.

What an effort by Shyra! After missing a layup, she went hard to the basket, got the rebound, and put it back in for two! That gives her 15 points in the game and moves the Sky’s lead to 63-51 with 7:20 to go.

Coach Cooper nearly collapsed to the ground right in front of me, as his team missed two easy layups on one possession and then threw the ball away on the next one. The Sparks are starting to run out of time, trailing 65-55 with five minutes left.

What’s a huge benefit of your bench players performing so well? Your starters stay fresh. Perkins checked into the game a few minutes ago, and led two straight breakaways that resulted in four quick points. Several times in the first half of the year the Sky built up a big lead in the first half just to watch it disappear in the second. If the bench can play this well for the rest of the year, that may not happen. Instead, we’ll see more games like this one, where the Sky pulls away in the fourth quarter. It’s a 70-56 lead with 3:21 to go.

That’s going to do it for this one as the UIC Pavilion comes to their feet for a standing ovation! The Sky wins 75-63 to start the second half of the season. The player of the game has to be Ely, who scored 16 points in just 23 minutes off the bench. Her scoring was big but she also brought a lot of enthusiasm every time she came into the game.

We’ll be back Saturday night when the Sky welcomes the Connecticut Sun to the UIC Pavilion for a 7pm tip-off. Get your tickets by calling 866.SKY.WNBA! Go Sky!