NEW YORK — As with any Sunday afternoon here, there were a lot of star-studded matinees in town. But this time, one of the best was across the East River from Broadway.
On the Barclays Center’s hardwood stage in Brooklyn, North Philly’s Kahleah Copper was in town with Candace Parker and the reigning WNBA champion Chicago Sky. Across the floor, there was Sabrina Ionescu, the electric guard leading a New York Liberty team with four wins in its last five games.
The tone was set early when Copper opened the game by hounding Ionescu on the ball. And Ionescu tried to return the favor a few times, even though Copper had a two-inch height advantage.
Ionescu ended up with advantages in almost everything else. She had her second career triple-double by the end of the third quarter, and ended the game with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.
Among the points were two huge long-range threes in the fourth quarter as the Liberty tried to fend off a late Sky rally.
Let the record show, too, that just three of Ionescu’s points came in the first quarter — but she dished out six assists in the frame.
It was just the 11th triple-double in WNBA history, and Ionescu is just the fourth player to have more than one. League legend Sheryl Swoopes and current Sky stars Parker and Courtney Vandersloot are the other three.
And it was the full showcase of the skills that made Ionescu an immediate New York star when she arrived from Oregon two years ago. She fell out of the spotlight during an injury-marred rookie year in 2020 and some struggles in 2021, but this year she’s looking elite again.
There was one key place Ionescu didn’t have the advantage: the final score. Chicago’s comeback push succeeded in dramatic fashion, on a Vandersloot three-pointer with one second to go that gave the Sky an 88-86 win.
It was a terrific play all around. Vandersloot inbounded to Emma Meesseman, who passed out of traffic to Parker, who dished left to an open shooter.
Vandersloot said she “knew as soon as she was passing it to me that it was going to be my shot, and so I let it fly.”
Copper had no doubt where the shot was going.
“That’s the closer,” she said with a nod across the locker room toward Vandersloot. “I’m just getting in an offensive rebounding position, but I know the shot’s going in.”
Copper was in the paint plenty often in this game, grabbing six rebounds to go with her 13 points. One of her offensive boards came on the possession right before Vandersloot’s three, when Copper missed a potential winner from underneath — and a probable foul went uncalled.
“Those scrappy plays are the ones that we’re going to need to get extra possessions,” Copper said. “Whatever it is I need to do when I’m out there to get us an extra possession, it’s what I’m going to do.”
There were, Copper said, around 30 of her friends and family in the stands. And whether you were one of them, or a WNBA fan from Philly who follows Copper, or just a basketball fan tuning into watch her star grow, you saw that the Sky’s success is built on much more than just her.
Copper, Parker, Vandersloot, and Allie Quigley were all part of last year’s title-winning squad. This past offseason, Chicago added Meesseman, one of the league’s best forwards and a title-winner in her own right with Washington in 2019.
“I still don’t know how we did it,” Copper said of the Meesseman deal. “Our bench could potentially go to other teams and be starters. … I think our team, everybody understands what they have to bring consistently — and that’s how we’re going to be able to run it back again.”
The Sky are certainly on their way. They’re now 9-4, third in the league standings, and a perfect 7-0 in Commissioner’s Cup games — an in-season tournament that brings a $500,000 prize to the winning team.
New York fell to 5-9, and 3-3 in the Commissioner’s Cup.