Chicago Sky flex their depth in tight game against Las Vegas Aces

The Sky come out of the grudge match with a win thanks to contributions across the roster

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PALMETTO, FL- JULY 26: Kahleah Cooper #2 and. Gabby Williams #15 of the Chicago Sky grabs the rebound against Angel McCoughtry #35 of the Las Vegas Aces on July 26, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Allie Quigley had struggled shooting the ball Sunday afternoon in the Chicago Sky’s season opener against the Las Vegas Aces.

A tough elbow jumper went left. A three coming off a screen hit backboard. A floater rimmed out.

But when the Sky needed a bucket with 21.7 seconds left in the game, Quigley still got the call.

“I felt a lot of emotions,” Quigley said after the game. “Just relieved because I was having a pretty crappy game but just happy that we were able to get this win. It was an ugly game. We definitely did not play our best, so to be able to steal that one at the last couple minutes was huge.”

The three-time All-Star finished with 10 points, four assists and two rebounds on four-of-12 shooting from the field. The shot put Chicago ahead for good and the Sky won 88-86.

“Allie [Quigley] struggled in the beginning just a little bit, but we were just telling [her], especially it was just telling [her] like you're still the best shooter in the league,” Sky guard Kahleah Copper said. “No matter how many shots you miss, we still count on you at the end of the game to hit these shots and she came up big for us as she does all the time.”

Of course nobody has forgotten about the Sky’s heartbreaking loss to the same Las Vegas Aces in the second round of last year’s playoffs — a game also decided in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter. 

“I definitely thought about it and I knew we wanted this revenge and, to get them back at the last second too, it was a sweet way to end it,” Quigley said in a postgame interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe.

Head coach and general manager James Wade said the pain from last year’s playoff loss is still there, but he was happy to come out with a win.

“It’s good to get a win but we have a lot of holes to plug,” Wade said. “We have to fix a lot of things so I’m happy with the win, but I’m not happy with how we got there.”

Kahleah Copper comes up big 

Copper led the way in scoring for the Sky with 18 points. The fifth-year guard picked up right where she left off last season as a timely spark plug for Chicago. 

She was just one-for-five from three, but pushed up the floor on the break and used her speed to get to the rim and the line. In the halfcourt, she took advantage of sleeping defenders on cuts and dives to the rim.

Copper, who re-signed with the Sky this offseason, started the game with Diamond DeShields coming off the bench.

“[Diamond] had some knee issues in the preseason and we just want to take our time with her,” Wade said. “She’s going to get back, but we don’t want to use her up and abuse her body when it’s not ready.”

DeShields led the Sky in scoring last year and a jump from her would make Chicago legitimate title contenders. While DeShields did play 15 minutes on Sunday, her impact wasn’t on the same level as has come to be expected from the young guard.

With only 21 games of regular season play left, continued restrictions on DeShields will reduce the Sky’s margin for error considerably. Wade and his staff are taking the right steps to ensure DeShields is completely healthy before she returns full time, but how the Sky measure up in the meantime remains to be seen.

Old and new faces make an impact

Azurá Stevens impressed in her Chicago Sky debut on Sunday. The forward scored 12 points on five-for-eight shooting from the field, including two threes. Stevens was limited to just 20 minutes of play due to foul trouble, but fulfilled much of the hype surrounding her arrival.

The 6’6 Stevens looked fluid in Chicago’s offense and made herself available on the fast break. She’ll continue to get easy looks in transition as long as she sprints the floor like she did Sunday.

On defense, Stevens handled pick-and-roll coverages well, but still got caught out of place on some defensive possessions. Her size is hard to miss on the court and it’s not hard to imagine how effective she’ll be rotating out of the weak side for rim protection. The defensive fit between her and Sky center Stefanie Dolson is still up for question, but some of that may just be unfamiliarity with the system.

The Sky also welcomed Ruthy Hebard to the floor for the first time in her WNBA debut. Hebard had four points in just eight minutes of play and filled in the spots most expected her to right off the bat.

The former Oregon Duck spent most of her time on offense setting screens and floating near the paint for putbacks and dump off passes. Hebard didn’t hesitate shooting the ball and should continue to show aggression as she gets more comfortable in the Sky’s offense. 

Expect to see her bring more of the post game and pick-and-roll play we saw at Oregon in the coming weeks. For now, Sunday’s simplified role should smooth the transition for Hebard.

One of the best surprises came not from any new blood, but from Chicago’s third-year wing Gabby Williams.

Williams looked leaps and bounds more confident in this game than she did most of last year. The former No. 4 overall pick scored 14 points and pulled down seven rebounds.

Most noticeable of all was that Williams didn’t shy away from taking threes against the Aces.

Williams relocates and seeks out the three in both clips, something she didn’t do often last year. While she may not hit a ton of triples this year, shooting in situations beyond just when she’s wide open on the 3-point line will be a key step in her development.

There has also been much talk of Williams’ role in the offense this season.

With the Sky signing Sydney Colson this offseason, the hope was to move Williams away from her backup point guard role from last year and onto the wing. With Colson currently out after testing positive for COVID-19 and replacement signing Stella Johnson not playing on Sunday, the backup spot was open for the taking.

But Wade didn’t utilize the UConn alum in the exact same way he did last season. Williams brought the ball up occasionally and helped run the offense, but she also did a lot of her work off the ball.

Williams shared the court with Courtney Vandersloot for 17 of the 25 minutes she played. Rather than keep her in a more defined backup point guard role, the Sky mixed her in with two other ball handlers at a time. That’s not to say Williams didn’t have some playmaking flashes, though:

It’s just one highlight from one game, but it’s a good sign of Williams’ continued development into a do-it-all wing and eventual starter.