No. 7 Liberty steals Game 1 against reigning champion Sky, 98-91, in Chicago

New York Liberty, the number 7 of the series, upset the number 2 Chicago Sky, 98-91, to win Game 1 of the first round at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago on Wednesday. The Sky is the reigning champion after taking the title as No. 6 last season.

Game 2 is back in Chicago on Saturday. Tip time is 12 noon ET. on ESPN. If the series moves to Game 3, it will move to New York’s Barclays Center, giving the Liberty home field advantage.

It is the Liberty’s first win since September 23, 2015. They reached the playoffs last year, taking the Phoenix Mercury to the final seconds, dropping one point. The 98 points is a playoff record for the franchise.

New York was six behind with 3:32 on the clock. They rattled a 13-0 run to end the game that started with another superb pass from Marine Johannes to a wide open Natasha Howard in the paint. Chicago missed 10 of its last 11 shots and turned the ball around at crucial moments.

Sabrina Ionescu drove in a three-pointer and Howard put away another easy-look basket that gave Liberty a 92-91 lead. Ionescu’s jumper at the corner forced the Sky to time out with 2:01 on the clock. Laney created her own shot for a five point lead from timeout.

How the Liberty Won Game 1

Neither team had a double-digit lead at any point in the game, a predictable scenario after the last three games the teams had played. The teams are two of the best at moving the ball offensively and it showed in an exciting game.

Turnover doomed the Sky in the second quarter and made them play from behind for the entire second half. New York went on an 11-0 run, broken by Kahleah Copper, scoring 14 points on six Sky turns to enter the locker room 48-45

Dolson hit a jumper and a three-pointer from the break and Betnijah Laney completed a four-point game for the 55-47 lead minutes into 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 last 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 out of 25 (44%) from outside the arc, fed by one probable 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, went 3-for-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 make 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 grabbed her right knee midway through the third, but shook off athletic trainers and returned to the game. Less than a minute later, she was hit hard.

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 high with a crucial block, but her 3-point shot was needed. The four-time 3-point match champion was 2-of-7.

Meesseman’s bucket at the end of the third looked like he could shift momentum to the skies. The 2019 Finals MVP will have to create a bigger footprint for Chicago to win Game 2. She scored four points on a 2-for-7 night and scored four rebounds with two blocks.

Schedule of the Sky vs. Liberty series

Game 1: Freedom 98, Heaven 91

Match 2 (Saturday): New York in Chicago, noon ET on ESPN

Game 3 (Tuesday, if needed): Chicago in New York, 8pm ET on ESPN2

Candace Parker #3 of the Chicago Sky drives to the basket against Stefanie Dolson #31 of the New York Liberty during the first half of Game One of the first round of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs at Wintrust Arena on August 17, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Chicago Sky’s Candace Parker drives to the basket against New York Liberty’s Stefanie Dolson during the first half of Game 1 in the first round of the 2022 WNBA playoffs at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena on August 17, 2022. (Michael Reaves/ Getty Images)

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