CHICAGO — A double-digit burst from Kahleah Copper in the first quarter immediately put to rest concerns about her apparent ankle injury and helped the Chicago Sky to a record-setting 100-62 rout of the New York Liberty in Game 2 of the Saturday afternoon.
The 38-point victory is the largest margin of victory in WNBA playoff history and forces the series in Brooklyn for a decisive Game 3 on Tuesday.
After the Liberty came back in the fourth quarter 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, took a 24-point halftime lead and scored 100 points in 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 of the Game 1 loss. “We shouldn’t have had it, but we did and it woke us up.
“We came into this game with a different mindset. 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 to another level and I think you had a different team tonight.”
Copper, who finished with a game-high 20 points, set the tone from the start of Saturday’s game to help Chicago take control early on. She knocked down a 3-pointer for the game’s opening basket and scored the Sky’s first five points. According to research from ESPN Stats & Information, Copper, the reigning WNBA Finals MVP, finished with 10 points in the first quarter, matching her highest scoring total in any first quarter this season.
Copper’s health for this match was in question after she left the end of practice on Friday with a non-contact ankle injury, requiring help from her teammates to get off the floor. Despite the incident, Sky coach James Wade repeatedly refused to offer more information about her status at the start of the game, reiterating before Saturday’s game that “she is fine”.
“She came out aggressive,” Wade said after the game. “I think the world turned upside down yesterday, so she just came out and let everyone know that she’s still Copper.”
Bakri added: “I was a little upset about the loss, but I think that’s always me in every game. I definitely approached this game with a chip on my shoulder, you know, we lost at home in front of our home crowd that always shows up. and it gives us everything. So it was important for us to respond.”
And Sky responded with overwhelming defensive pressure on 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 shy 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 to Ionescu in Game 2, limiting New York to 1-for-8 shooting (0-of-2 on 3s) for two points and two double-team turnovers compared to 6 -for -12 with 15 points and no turnovers while sending help in Game 1.
“Chicago responded the way championship teams respond,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “Our shots were pretty silly to be quite honest and because of the lack of ball movement. I just didn’t think we played together as a team.”
Chicago has won three straight shutout games dating back to last year’s two shutout games en route to the championship. Despite being the top seed, the Sky will need 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 this, it doesn’t matter where we play,” Wade added. “We can play on the moon, but we have to be who we are going to be. That will dictate everything.”