By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
For ten seconds on Sunday, the Chicago Sky were headed to the WNBA Semifinals. One ill-timed turnover and one miraculous shot later, they’re headed home.
Dearica Hamby stole a Courtney Vandersloot pass and hit a desperation three with five seconds left to send the Las Vegas Aces to a 93-92 victory over the Sky in the second round of the 2019 WNBA Playoffs. Hamby, the 2019 Sixth Woman of the Year, had 17 points for Las Vegas, which plays the top-seeded Washington Mystics in the semifinals starting Tuesday night.
Astou Ndour hit a three-pointer with 24 seconds remaining to put the Sky on top 92-90, and after A’ja Wilson lost the ball out of bounds with 14.6 left, the Sky only needed to retain possession. Vandersloot tried to dribble out the clock, but Sydney Colson stepped into her path, and she attempted a long pass to DeShields, which Hamby intercepted.
“I can’t believe that shot,” said Hamby as her teammates celebrated on the court.
Ndour’s three-point attempt at the buzzer was off target. The loss was the first for the Sky in the single-elimination rounds since the WNBA switched playoff formats in 2016.
Sky head coach James Wade was adamant that Hamby’s shot should not have counted.
“She [Hamby] stepped out of bounds. She stepped out of bounds,” he said in the postgame press conference. “The last possession, before she scored, she stepped out of bounds.”
Slow motion replays appeared to show Hamby stepping on or over the sideline after gaining possession, but no call was made.
“It gave me March Madness vibes,” Wilson said about the atmosphere during the game. “It gave me those postseason college vibes where you can’t let up and anything can happen.”
“I thought we were fortunate,” said Aces coach Bill Laimbeer. “We played hard enough to win, but we didn’t play well enough to put the game away. I give Chicago credit. One team had to go home, and that’s unfortunate, but now it’s onto the next round.”
An officiating error in the second quarter aided the Sky into securing a halftime lead. With 2:30 left in the half and Las Vegas leading 45-44, Aces guard Kayla McBride was initially called for a shooting foul on DeShields, who sank both free throws. Liz Cambage then converted a layup at the other end before the referees stopped play. They then reversed the earlier call, awarded the free throws to Ndour and put about 10-15 seconds back on the clock. Ndour only made one of two at the line, but the Sky finished the half on a 7-0 run.
DeShields led the Sky with 23 points. Ndour had 17 and eight rebounds, and Kahleah Copper scored 16 points off the bench. Vandersloot dished out 12 assists against only two turnovers. Liz Cambage had 23 points, 17 rebounds, six blocks and two steals to pace the Aces.
“It wasn’t a good feeling, coming in the locker room, knowing that you’ve given your all, and it not to come out the way you wanted it,” said Copper.
The stunning loss ended a turnaround season for Chicago, which won 20 games after winning 25 total the two years prior and came within one possession of upending Las Vegas, a preseason favorite for the WNBA Finals. While DeShields said the team had a lot of pride in what they had accomplished this year, Wade could not put the season into perspective so soon after the end of the game.
“It stings a little bit too much to think about this season,” he said. “I’m just worried about getting us home and letting it sink in that basketball’s done for us for the season.”
He added, “It’s very painful, but for somebody like me, personally, I hope this pain never goes away.”
Moments to Remember
Copper is a Great Conductor: On a night where Allie Quigley could not get her jumper to fall (she missed nine of 11 shots and all six of her threes), Copper gave the Sky a huge boost off the bench. She hit two threes during a second quarter run that gave the Sky a 13-point lead, and the 16 points was her season high.
Nothing in Life is Free: James Wade warned his team about allowing the Aces to get to the line after giving up 26 free throws in their win against Phoenix. Unfortunately, the Sky were not able to stay out of foul trouble, leading to 29 foul shots for Las Vegas. Ndour and Cheyenne Parker had five fouls each and Dolson had four.
“Elizabeth Wilson” Controls the Glass: James Wade mentioned pregame that stopping the combination of Cambage and Wilson was key to his team’s chances, and while they were limited to 41 percent from the field, the Aces’ tandem combined for 28 rebounds, a key to Las Vegas plus-8 edge in boards.
Until next year, keep your head above the clouds.
Featured photo credit: Las Vegas Aces
Chris Pennant covers professional basketball for WARR Media