Already behind New York Liberty 1-0 in their first-round playoff series, the Chicago Sky suffered another blow Friday when star Kahleah Copper left practice with an apparent non-contact injury before Saturday’s Game 2.
Copper was dribbling on a screen during a drill when she fell to the ground, grabbing her lower right leg in apparent pain. The flanker walked off the court on his own and spent several minutes with a coach. Copper visibly favored her right leg as she walked into the locker room, while her teammate Candace Parker encouraged her to walk completely “heel-to-toe” to keep her ankle and calf loose.
Coach James Wade repeatedly refused to provide any information about Copper’s injury after Friday’s practice at Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.
“We’re good,” Wade said in response to questions about Copper’s mobility and availability for Game 2 of the best-of-three series.
“There was no incident,” he added when asked about Copper’s departure from practice.
Copper’s teammates were upbeat about the apparent injury.
“I looked her in the eye. She’s good,” veteran Allie Quigley said. “She is fine.”
Copper’s right leg was a concern after a pair of collisions in the third quarter of Game 1. She was left on the ground for an entire play after former teammate Stefanie Dolson brought her down with a block.
Copper crashed to the ground after colliding with Sabrina Ionescu a play later, slightly favoring her right leg on the sideline as the play was called dead.
Although Copper stayed in the game until the end, he faded in the closing minutes of the 98-91 loss, taking just three shots in the fourth quarter after leading the team with 19 points through three quarters.
The path to a repeat runs through Copper, who led the team in scoring this season with 15.7 points per game after winning Finals MVP in 2021. The Sky are at their best when Copper and Courtney Vandersloot are balanced on offense. to the hoop With the pair cutting from either wing, the game opens up for the rest of the offense.
Game 2 will kick off at 11 am on Saturday, less than 24 hours after Copper’s injury in practice.
“Listen, let’s live with reality right now,” Parker said. “Obviously we are better when we are complete. (Copper) brings energy. She is one of our starters. We hope for the best and hope that she is doing well.”
With or without Copper, the Sky faces a duty to win. They need to beat Liberty on Saturday at Winstrust Arena and in New York on Tuesday to advance to the semifinals.
Despite battling deficits twice in Game 1, the Sky were unable to hold off Ionescu and Natasha Howard to prevent a Liberty comeback in the fourth quarter.
Defense was a concern for Sky in the final days of the regular season, especially after allowing the Seattle Storm to score 111 points in the final at home. Increasing defensive pressure will be a key focus for Sky in Game 2.
“We can talk about all the veteran leadership, we can talk about experience — we have to put the ball in the basket and we have to stop them from doing it,” Parker said. “The harder we make things for them on the defensive end, we’ll see what happens. That’s how the game opened.”
Reversing the outcome of Game 1 is ultimately based on a change of mind. Second-seeded Sky held the lead and momentum for most of the fourth quarter, only to implode under a last-minute run from No.7-seeded Liberty, who scored the final 13 points to clinch the surprise. The Sky turned the ball over seven times in the second half and did not score in the final three minutes of the game.
This is not uncharted territory for Sky, who survived single-elimination games against the Dallas Wings and Minnesota Lynx to earn a spot in the semifinals last season. But the stakes are high for the reigning WNBA champions as they enter Game 2, possibly without their breakout star.