Chicago Sky oust New York Liberty, reach WNBA semifinals with hopes of second straight championship still alive

NEW YORK -- The No. 2 seed and defending champion Chicago Sky won their second straight elimination game to earn their spot in the WNBA playoff semifinals, taking down the No. 7 seed New York Liberty 90-72 on Tuesday at Barclays Center in a winner-takes-all Game 3.

After a stunning loss on their home court in Game 1, the Sky used two convincing wins to keep alive their hopes of becoming the first WNBA franchise to repeat as champion since the Los Angeles Sparks did it in 2001 and 2002.

The Sky will face the winner of Wednesday's Game 3 between the No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun and No. 6 seed Dallas Wings in a best-of-five semifinal series, hosting Games 1, 2 and, if necessary, 5.

Guard Allie Quigley said the experienced Sky squad approached Game 1 like a regular-season game, but playing with a sense of urgency was not a problem for Chicago the rest of the series. The Sky demolished the Liberty by a WNBA-playoff-record 38 points in Game 2. And then Tuesday, outside of a short spurt in which New York briefly made it a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter, the Sky largely controlled Game 3 behind top-notch defensive and offensive execution. A 20-3 fourth-quarter run -- which featured 16 unanswered points -- after the Liberty's late flurry proved to be the decisive blow.

"I think Game 2 was a reminder of how hard it is to get a playoff win and what we have to bring in order to continue winning in the playoffs," Quigley said. "Sucks that we didn't have that reminder for the first game, but we had it now and we know how hard it's going to be to continue getting wins."

Chicago earned a 27-5 edge in transition scoring, forced 16 Liberty turnovers and six Sky players finished in double figures. Two-time MVP Candace Parker flirted with a triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, Courtney Vandersloot recorded a double-double of 14 points and 10 assists and Quigley hit a game-high four 3s on 50% shooting.

"I think we woke them up a little bit, to be quite honest," Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said of how the Sky turned things around after Game 1. "Because now they've gone to another level."

Said 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper: "I think we saw a version of ourselves that we fell in love with and that we want to grow on. And there's just no going back. We set the tone. Anything under that is just unacceptable."

The Liberty -- led by Betnijah Laney (15 points), Sabrina Ionescu (14) and Natasha Howard (14) -- end their season with a disappointing result. However, Brondello said making the playoffs -- which they did on the final day of the regular season -- was an accomplishment in and of itself, especially after their paltry 1-7 start and a slew of injuries, including to All-Star Laney.

The Liberty's Game 1 victory over the Sky marked their first postseason victory since 2015 and allowed them to host their first home playoff game since 2017, which was called a sellout behind an announced attendance of 7,837. It was also the first playoff game for the Liberty at Barclays Center, where they have played full-time for the past two seasons following two years at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.

"I thought we did a lot of good things this year," Brondello said. "We faced a lot of adversity. It's a what if -- what if [Laney was] healthy all season long. ... New coach, new system, some new players coming in. It takes time, and with our injury toll, it took probably a little longer than we thought for the chemistry to get where we wanted it to go. But I thought we showed a lot of signs of that."