INDIANAPOLIS — Before Sunday’s game against Indiana Fever was over, Sky’s ticket to the Commissioner’s Cup championship on July 26 was punched. They needed a Connecticut Sun win or loss and got the latter.
Their 89-87 loss to Fever will only have potential implications for where the championship game is played.
“It was a big deal because we could have gone unbeaten,” said Courtney Vandersloot. “Now we’re talking about hosting, things like that. Those are the things we wanted to strive for.”
The Aces have two Commissioner’s Cup games remaining against the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx and the Sky have one against the Sun. If the Aces don’t both lose, they will host the championship game.
General manager/coach James Wade said after Sky’s overtime win over the Atlanta Dream on Friday that his team needs to get better at holding on to leads and breaking away from teams. They gave up a double-digit lead again on Sunday and found themselves hitting back as time went on.
After one, the Sky won a jumpball that was knocked over after an official said the ball wasn’t thrown properly. On the second try, Victoria Vivians gained possession of Emma Meesseeman, who then fouled her. Vivians made one of her two free throws, giving Fever a two-point lead with seven seconds left.
Similar to their win over the New York Liberty, Sky controlled the final possession and Vandersloot got a shot in with a second to go. This attempt was not good.
She finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Kahleah Copper had four rebounds and two assists in addition to her career-high 28 points. Meesseman added 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists. All 10 Sky players scored on Sunday afternoon.
Sunday’s difference was Fever’s explosive third quarter, in which they accumulated 35 points led by rookie NaLyssa Smith and Kelsey Mitchell. Sky held Mitchell, who is third in the league (19.2 points per game), to two points in the first half. She finished with 13 and nine assists. Smith finished with a career-high 26 points and added 11 rebounds.
“We’re not good enough to guard [Smith] right now,” Wade said.
Candace Parker missed her second straight game on Sunday.
Wade said she returned to practice on Saturday and will be available against the Las Vegas Aces on Tuesday. Sky’s defensive rating with Parker on the ground this season is 97.2. In her absence for the last two games, she slipped to 105.7.
Her presence was particularly missed on the boards. The Fever passed Sky 39-27 and scored 14 second chance points. Parker leads in rebounds per game (7.9) and is eighth in the league.
“Even though Candace is as good a rebounder as she is, we’re still missing out on a lot of offensive rebounds,” Vandersloot said. “That was our Achilles heel. We’ve raised it many times and we need to find a way to get it done.”
Wade said he has not spoken to his team about the Commissioner’s Cup championship this season. When asked if his team had clinched a spot in the second annual championship game, he had nothing to say.
Its players, on the other hand, look forward to the opportunity to earn a significant amount of extra money. There is a half million dollar prize pool with $30,000 going to each player on the winning team. The losing team gets $10,000 per player.
“This is going to be fun,” Ruthy Hebard said. “But it will be a good chance for us to improve again.”