Sky clinch final WNBA playoff spot after summer of upheaval

Alexa Philippou, ESPNSep 8, 2023, 11:45 PM ET

CloseCovers women’s college basketball and the WNBA
Previously covered UConn and the WNBA Connecticut Sun for the Hartford Courant
Stanford graduate and Baltimore native with further experience at the Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times and Cincinnati Enquirer

The Chicago Sky became the eighth and final team to clinch a spot in the 2023 WNBA playoffs by beating the Minnesota Lynx 92-87 Friday at Wintrust Arena.

The Sky advanced to the postseason for the fifth consecutive year, the longest streak in franchise history, made all the more impressive by the fact they experienced a midseason head-coaching change when James Wade left in July for the NBA. Emre Vatansever took over as head coach and general manager on an interim basis.

Aside from Wade’s departure, the team lost Isabelle Harrison and Rebekah Gardner to season-ending injuries early in the summer. Chicago had already been a new-look team as it was following a momentous offseason that saw the departures of Candace Parker (Las Vegas Aces), Courtney Vandersloot (New York Liberty), Azura Stevens (Los Angeles Sparks), Emma Meesseman (forgoing WNBA season) and Allie Quigley (sitting out season).

That core delivered a franchise-first WNBA championship in 2021 (minus Meesseman), before a semifinals exit in 2022 as the No. 2 seed.

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Wade built the 2023 roster around 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, recruiting the likes of Marina Mabrey, Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams and Harrison. It took some time for all the pieces to jell, but the team kept its focus on peaking at the right moment to achieve its goals. Wade traded away the Sky’s 2024 first-round draft pick this past offseason, assuring there would have been no real silver lining to missing the playoffs.

“Us continuing to stay motivated, continue to just know that whatever adversity that hits us, we can handle it,” Copper said of the team’s approach. “The thing that I like about this group is the personalities. You have people who haven’t been on WNBA rosters, you have people who are underrated, you’ve got people who are overlooked, so putting that all together, and then all y’all talking about we’re not going to make playoffs — that’s just what we do. That’s how we respond.”

Added guard Dana Evans: “I feel like we play better when we’ve got something to prove and we’ve got a little chip on our shoulder. It just goes to show you that we’re winners and we want to win.”

The team went 7-9 under Wade this season and have gone 10-13 under Vatansever, with their regular-season finale Sunday against the Connecticut Sun.

“I’m just happy for them,” Vatansever said. “I’m just thrilled and honored to coach them and just be with them at the same time on the court.”

As the No. 8 seed, the Sky will face the No. 1 overall seed — either the Aces or Liberty — in a best-of-three first-round series starting next week.

With the Sky’s victory, the Sparks are knocked out of playoff contention. Los Angeles will join the Seattle Storm, Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury in the 2024 WNBA draft lottery, which could feature big names from the college game in Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Paige Bueckers and Cameron Brink.

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