The No. 7 seed New York Liberty upset the No. 2 Chicago Sky, 98-91, to take Game 1 of the first-round series at Wintrust Arena in Chicago on Wednesday. The Sky are the reigning champions after taking the title as the No. 6 seed last season.
Game 2 is Saturday back in Chicago. Tip time is noon ET. on ESPN. If the series goes to Game 3, it will go to Barclays Center in New York, giving the Liberty home-court advantage.
It's the Liberty's first playoff win since Sept. 23, 2015. They reached the playoffs last year and took the Phoenix Mercury to the final seconds, falling by one point. The 98 points is a playoff record for the franchise.
New York trailed by six with 3:32 on the clock. They rattled off a 13-0 run to close the game that started by another beautiful pass from Marine Johannes to a wide-open Natasha Howard in the paint. Chicago missed 10 of its final 11 shots and turned the ball over at crucial times.
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Sabrina Ionescu drilled a 3-pointer and Howard put away another easy-look basket that gave the Liberty a 92-91 lead. Ionescu’s jumper near the corner forced the Sky to take a timeout with 2:01 on the clock. Laney created her own shot for a five-point lead out of the timeout.
How the Liberty won Game 1
Neither team held a double-digit advantage at any point in the contest, a predictable scenario after the last three games the teams had played. The teams are two of the best at moving the ball around offensively and it showed throughout a close contest.
Turnovers doomed the Sky in the second quarter and put them playing from behind throughout the second half. New York went on an 11-0 run broken up by Kahleah Copper and scored 14 points off of six Sky turnovers to go into the locker room up 48-45
Dolson hit a jumper and 3-pointer out of the break and Betnijah Laney completed a four-point play for the 55-47 lead minutes into the third. Copper ended the streak again with another drive-and-1 on a Courtney Vandersloot assist.
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Copper and Chicago kept cutting into the lead and Emma Meesseman hit the final bucket of the quarter to give the Sky a 74-73 lead going into the final 10 minutes. It was their first lead since the second quarter.
Chicago had 10 turnovers and couldn't keep up with the Liberty's 3-point shooting. New York was 11-of-25 (44%) from beyond the arc fueled by one likely and another unlikely source. Ionescu was 3-of-6 (8-of-12 overall) and Dolson, the center who won the title with the Sky last season, hit 3-of-4 from range.
Ionescu had 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals. Dolson scored 13 with seven rebounds, three assists and a block. Howard had 22 points (9-of-17) with seven rebounds, three assists and a block.
What the Sky can do to even series
Chicago had big contributions from their 2021 Finals MVP in Copper, who scored 21 on 7-of-14 shooting with eight rebounds. She fell and clutched her right knee midway through the third, but shook off athletic trainers and returned to the game. Less than a minute later, she took a hard hit.
Allie Quigley (18 points), Candace Parker (17p, 10 rebounds), Vandersloot (13p, 10 assists) and Azura Stevens (16 points off the bench) all stepped up. Quigley hit shots in the midrange and made the highlight reel with a crucial block, but her 3-point shot was needed. The four-time 3-point contest champion was 2-of-7.
Meesseman's bucket at the end of the third looked like it might shift momentum the Sky's way. The 2019 Finals MVP will need to make a larger footprint for Chicago to win Game 2. She scored four points on a 2-for-7 night and pulled in four rebounds with two blocks.
Sky vs. Liberty series schedule
Game 1: Liberty 98, Sky 91
Game 2 (Saturday): New York at Chicago, noon ET on ESPN
Game 3 (Tuesday, if necessary): Chicago at New York, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2