The #7 seed New York Freedom upset #2 chicago sky, 98-91, to win Game 1 of the first-round series at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena on Wednesday. The Sky are the defending champions after winning the No. 6 seed last season.
Game 2 is Saturday back in Chicago. Tipping time is noon ET. on ESPN. If the series goes to Game 3, it will go to Barclays Center in New York, giving Liberty the home court advantage.
It’s the Liberty’s first playoff victory since Sept. 23, 2015. They reached the playoffs last year and led the Phoenix Mercury until the dying seconds, dropping a point. The 98 points are a playoff record for the franchise.
New York trailed by six with 3:32 on the clock. They went on a 13-0 run to close out the game which started with another fine pass from Marine Johannes to a wide open Natasha Howard in the paint. Chicago has missed 10 of its last 11 shots and turned the ball over at crucial moments.
Sabrina Ionescu drilled a 3-pointer and Howard put away another easy-to-watch basket that gave the Liberty a 92-91 lead. Ionescu’s jumper near the corner forced Sky into a timeout with 2:01 on the clock. Laney created his own shot for a five-point timeout lead.
How the Liberty won Game 1
Neither team has held a double-digit advantage at any point in the competition, a scenario to be expected after the last three games played by the teams. The teams are two of the best at moving the ball offensively and it showed throughout a tight game.
Turnovers doomed Sky in the second quarter and had them playing from behind throughout the second half. New York went on an 11-0 run interrupted by Kahleah Copper and scored 14 points on six Sky turnovers to enter the locker room with a 48-45 lead.
Dolson hit a jumper and 3-pointers off the break and Betnijah Laney completed a four-point play for the 55-47 minute lead in the third. Copper ended the streak again with another drive-and-1 on an assist from Courtney Vandersloot.
Copper and Chicago continued to take the lead and Emma Meesseman hit the final bucket of the quarter to give the Sky a 74-73 lead in the final 10 minutes. It was their first lead since the second quarter.
Chicago had 10 turnovers and couldn’t follow Liberty’s 3-point shot. New York was 11 of 25 (44%) beyond the arc fueled by one source likely and another unlikely. Ionescu was 3 of 6 (8 of 12 overall) and Dolson, the center who won the Sky title 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 heaven can do for even series
Chicago had big contributions from their 2021 Finals MVP Copper, who shot 21 on 7 of 14 with eight rebounds. She fell and grabbed her right knee midway through the third, but shook off the 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 highlights reel with a crucial block, but his 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 could shift momentum in Sky’s direction. The 2019 Finals MVP will need to make a bigger footprint for Chicago to win Game 2. She scored four points on a 2-for-7 night and pulled four rebounds with two blocks.
Sky vs Liberty Series Schedule
Game 1: Freedom 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