Late in the fourth quarter on Friday night, the Chicago Sky were clinging to a two-point lead over the visiting New York Liberty. And with Candace Parker out due to a non-COVID-19 illness, they needed someone else to step up and take control. Courtney Vandersloot did just that.
With the shot clock winding down on a stagnant possession, Vandersloot sized up Marine Johannes and launched an off-the-dribble 3-pointer right in her face. After rattling around every single inch of the rim, the ball finally dropped through the Net to give the Sky a five-point lead with 1:27 to play. The Liberty never got any closer, as the Sky pulled away for a crucial 89-81 victory.
Vandersloot, who also hit three free throws down the stretch to help seal the win, finished with 23 points, six rebounds and nine assists on 6 of 10 from the field. She did all of that without recording a single turnover in 31 minutes of action. This was just the sixth time in WNBA history that a player has put up at least 20 points, six rebounds and nine assists without a turnover; Vandersloot has two of those performances, per Across the Timeline.
After missing the Sky's previous four regular-season games with a concussion, Vandersloot returned to action in the Commissioner's Cup championship on Tuesday, but was not her usual self. Her vintage performance Friday made it clear, however, that she's back to 100 percent.
Vandersloot's return to form came at a perfect time for the Sky, who will need every win they can get down the stretch to hold off the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the WNBA playoffs. Both of those teams are 6-1 since the All-Star break, which is putting tremendous pressure on the Sky to take care of their business. Friday night's matchup could have been a tricky one, especially without their best player, but they got the job done thanks to Vandersloot.
The Sky are now 22-7 on the season, and maintained their one-game lead over the Aces and 1.5-game advantage over the Sun. They are also closing in on the franchise record of 24 wins, set in 2014. With just seven games remaining, the Sky should make history; whether they'll also claim the top seed remains to be seen.
As for the Liberty, this was a crushing defeat. Parker's absence gave them a golden opportunity to score a second straight victory over the Sky and get a much-needed win. Instead, they fell short and have now lost eight of their past 10 games to fall to 11th place in the standings.
They're now two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, and running out of time. Their only potential saving grace is that all eight of their remaining games are against fellow playoff hopefuls. If they can get hot down the stretch they still have a chance of sneaking into the postseason.