Courtside Blog - June 27 vs. Mystics

Home sweet home! Good evening Sky fans, this is Dave coming to you again from the scorers’ table after being away for 11 days. Tonight, it’s a battle of two teams looking to turn around their franchises’ fortunes from a year ago as the Sky take on the Washington Mystics, a team that went 10-24 in 2008, but is off to a 4-2 start and before tonight’s game in first place in the Eastern Region.

After a 1-2 road trip, the Sky is now sitting at 4-3, third place in the Eastern Conference. In our office last Tuesday, we are all crowded around a computer watching that game’s thrilling conclusion [on WNBA LiveAccess, where you can watch every Sky game] as the Sky pulled out a 99-98 OT victory over the Atlanta Dream!

We’ve talked about what the Sky needs to do to make the playoffs in 2009 and just seven games in, it looks like their biggest obstacle is learning how to close out games. Both at home and on the road, they’ve had trouble keeping leads in the third and fourth quarters. Let’s see how they handle that tonight, as we get set for the tip!

There has been a LOT of physical play under the basket early on, mainly between Sylvia Fowles and the Mystics’ Nakia Sanford—and with five minutes left in the first quarter; Fowles has just picked up her second foul. The look on Fowles’ face after that call tells me that she didn’t care much for that one. A few minutes into the game, it’s a 6-5 sky lead.

Chen Nan checks into the game to replace Fowles, and she quickly gets whistled for a foul. Sanford is drawing fouls left and right from the Sky … not a good sign. You can make that a second foul on Chen, now, with 2:30 left in the quarter. Thankfully, Sanford checks out and a familiar face returns to the Mystic lineup—Chastity Melvin, who spent the last two seasons in a Sky uniform.

The first quarter has been a seesaw battle all the way. The Sky took a 6-0 lead, the Mystics then scored 11 straight points. At the end of one, it’s now 15-8 in favor of the Mystics. One observation: The Mystics look a lot quicker than the Sky early on tonight. The Sky will need to pick their pace of play up to make this home crowd happy tonight.

What a great hustle play by rookie Kristi Toliver! After a turnover led to a Washington breakaway, Toliver sprinted down the floor, got a hand in the passing lane, and broke up the pass, which ultimately went out of bounds off a Mystic player and possession went to the Sky! That’s the kind of effort you want to see from a first-round pick.

More foul trouble for Fowles—she picks up her third after being whistled for an elbow while attempting to control a rebound. Was there an elbow? Yes. Was it enough to draw a call? I don’t think so. Send an Academy Award to Sanford because her flop on the play is what got the official’s attention. Head Coach Steven Key and Fowles are now pointing that out to the official. Fowles is staying in the game; we’re all tied up at 17 with 6:00 left in the second quarter.

Timeout called here with 2:51 left in what’s been an even second quarter. The score is 20-19 in favor of the Mystics. Neither team is shooting well; the Sky is 8-for-28 from the floor (29 percent), while the Mystics are only 9-for-25 (36 percent).

At the half, the Sky lead 26-25, with the score a good indication of the way both teams are playing. There haven’t really been any lengthy runs by either team, and no one has been able to sustain any momentum. The two teams have combined to make 29 turnovers, lots of early difficulties thus far. Should be an interesting second half as both teams will try to cut down on those mistakes and play their style of basketball.

Even though I’m only about ten feet from the Washington bench, I haven’t heard much from their head coach, Julie Plank. About the only times I’ve heard her voice were when she was calling out a play to her team. She’s frequently up off the bench and pacing the sidelines, but she rarely yells across the court at her players like I’ve seen other coaches do.

Official timeout with 4:40 to go in the third, it’s now 39-31 in favor of Washington. They’ve been slowly building a lead this quarter while the Sky continues to struggle to put the ball in the basket. They’re just 12-for-38 from the floor (32 percent), and have hit only one of their 10 three-point attempts. They’re going to need to take the ball to the basket to generate some points because the outside shots just aren’t falling.

Jia Perkins hits two free throws, then on the next possession she knocks the ball loose to Armintie Price, and Jia finishes the fast break with a layup! That’s more like it! It’s down to a four-point Washington lead at 41-37 with 3:30 left in the third.

Coach Key just gave Dupree some advice on how to defend Mystic forward/center Crystal Langhorne…“Make her shoot it!”

Three quarters are in the books, and it’s still a close one: 48-47, Washington leads. The score is just about even, the stats are just about even—everything is just about even. No idea who is going to win this one. This is the kind of game where if one player gets hot in the fourth they can carry their team to victory—hopefully tonight that’s the Sky!

We’re under a bit of a delay to start the fourth quarter as Coach Plank disagrees with the scorers’ table on the number of timeouts remaining for her team. An official just informed Plank that she did use the timeout she was arguing about in the second quarter—although Plank rolled her eyes in disagreement after being told that.

Fourth quarter just underway now. Sanford bumped Fowles, drawing a whistle from the refs, and causing Plank to tell her not to foul anymore. What happened on the next possession? Sanford got another foul. Melvin checks in for Sanford, and Plank is waiting at mid-court to talk to Sanford as she comes to the bench.

Jia with the ball near the elbow, she lobs a perfect alley-oop pass down low to Candice, and she banks it in for two! That’s six points for Candice in this quarter, but Washington still leads, 58-56. 4:30 to go. On the next Sky possession, Candice makes it eight points in the 4th with a nice drive to the basket. We’ve got a tie ballgame!

Washington takes a timeout with 2:55 to go, the Sky lead 61-60! It’s been all Candice and Sylvia in this quarter. The two have combined to score 12 of the team’s 14 points in the fourth. Still, the Mystics are very much alive. This one is going all the way down to the wire!

For a second there, I thought Coach Key was trying to show Erin Thorn his latest dance move. But apparently, that was his way of telling Thorn that she should try and use a head fake to get around her defender.

Canty drives to the basket, the shot doesn’t go, Dupree pulls down the rebound, fires to Perkins, and she drains a HUGE 3-pointer! The crowd is going crazy! Its 68-63 Sky, 55 seconds left … what a game!

Lindsay Harding misses a three with 20 seconds left for the Mystics as the Sky control the rebound! That’s going to do it for this one. The Sky fans come to their feet, and they have reason to celebrate. Chicago wins this one, 68-63, running their record to 5-3, continuing their best start in franchise history!

Thanks to all the fans that came out tonight and special thanks to the fans that wore red in support of “Go Red for Women Night,” a great cause.

We’ll be back Tuesday night when the Sky face the Sacramento Monarchs at 7 p.m.

Go Sky!