Chicago Sky Guards Win Battle Of Replacements With Strong Defense

. Wednesday, July 23, 2008
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(Subtitle: Hey there was WNBA basketball played last night too!)

Sylvia Fowles made her return to the Chicago Sky last night, but it was the play of guard Jia Perkins that stole the show in a less “spirited” 68-60 victory over the Indiana Fever.

Perkins finished two assists short of a triple double, with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists.

The victory itself was not much of a surprise to me – I figured the Sky’s guards could pressure the Fever’s ball-handlers keep the Fever completely disoriented. And while that was a factor in the game to some extent, I didn’t think the Sky would be able to win if they turned the ball over at the rate they did – on 26.5% of their possessions. Nor did I think they could win if they allowed the Fever to get 28% of the offensive rebounds for a total of 13. So what happened?

Lead guard combo Perkins and K.B. Sharp have established some amazing chemistry on the court and their synergy score 81 was above their season average and looked more like the type of ball movement you might see from the San Antonio Silver Stars than a team missing its starting point guard.

Even though the Fever were missing starting point guard Tully Bevilaqua, this has to be a pretty encouraging victory for the Sky as they get Fowles back. First by beating 4th place Indiana, this gets the Sky a game closer to the playoffs. Second, Perkins right now is doing all the things at point guard that the team was not getting at the beginning of the season from Dominique Canty. Third, Fowles played limited minutes meaning they should be better once she comes back.

The Chicago Sky had only an average offensive game, but won this game on defense by pressuring the Fever ball handlers and making it difficult for them to initiate the offense.

The Sky are a defensive team?

I suppose I don’t normally think of the Sky as a defensive team, but that is what led them to victory last night. Indiana is not a stellar offensive team – in fact, it is the second worst according to its offensive rating and third worst according to its synergy score. But the Sky came out with a defensive energy that I had not yet seen from them this season.

The Fever’s average synergy score is 71 and the Sky held them to 51. So their pressure on the ball managed to seriously disrupt the Fever’s ability to run move the ball in their offense. Watching the game, the Fever sometimes didn’t even cross half court until the shot clock was down to 14 seconds. As a result, they often panicked and took bad shots instead of moving the ball around to get a good shot.

They didn’t trap inexperienced point guard LaToya Bond as much as I thought they would, but when they did they usually either forced a bad decision or turnover. The Fever rarely got good ball movement or penetration to the basket with the exception of a second quarter stretch when both team’s reserves were in.

It’s hard to know how the Fever can solve this problem because it’s not just a problem in Bevilaqua’s absense, but seems to plague them when she’s there – they just aren’t good at attacking the defense and creating plays.

Perkins “raising her game”

Jia Perkins was the biggest surprise of this game for me. I didn’t realize she was capable of doing so much. She really showed that she can handle starting point guard duties and not just be solid, but extremely effective.

In their win against Connecticut last Friday, Perkins and Sharp had 0 turnovers and 6 assists between them. Last night, they had 6 turnovers but 9 assists in much bigger minutes. Turnovers are never “good”, but a lot of them were a result of trying to make plays rather than dribbling off their foot or making bad decisions. In other words, it seems like we’re starting to see Perkins and Sharp take control of this team and take over for regular starter Dominique Canty.

The big difference seems to be Sharp’s presence in the lineup. She plays a very steady game and just makes solid decisions. She doesn’t do anything fancy with the ball but gets it to where it needs to go. I normally take notes on games I watch and loosely keep track of “lost assists”, or assists that were lost because the shooter didn’t make the shot. I had Sharp down for two of those and a number of other plays where her ability to recognize the scoring opportunity led to someone else getting an assist.

When Canty runs the team she tends to pound the ball near the top of the key seemingly looking for her own scoring opportunity ahead of the running the team’s offense. As s a result, the team gets stagnant. With Perkins and Sharp running the show, the offense not only looked more fluid, but also seemed to have an energy that it normally lacks with Canty.

Fowles’ return

Fowles looked ok in her return, but is clearly not 100%. I don’t know whether it was the brace or the injury, but her explosiveness was definitely limited. However, that really provided an opportunity to see how good her instincts are as she was still able to disrupt a number of shots get good position for rebounds.

She will be a welcome addition, even if she continues coming off the bench until the Olympics. The Sky have won 3 of their last 5 now (2-1 without Canty) and so it may be in their best interest to sustain the rhythm by continuing to bring Fowles off the bench.

Can they get back into the playoff hunt?

I think the Sky have a good shot at passing Indiana and Washington in the playoff hunt. Indiana has lost 6 of 7 and before people start blaming Bevilaqua for their slippage, she was playing those last six. Their offense just lacks rhythm and when a team like Chicago applies pressure, they look lost.

But perhaps the biggest issue confronting Chicago now is whether they should re-insert Canty into the lineup once she comes back from injury. Right now, I’m inclined to say no – if this lineup is working and has chemistry, you don’t mess with that. The team has lacked any real chemistry all season so why give it up once you have it?

Canty doesn’t do anything as a starter for the Sky that she can’t do as the sixth woman off the bench. The question of course is how Canty would handle such a demotion…and that is something only the people in that locker room know.

Relevant Links:

A Winning Return For Sylvia Fowles Depends On Effiicient Guard Play

How Will the Indiana Fever Survive Tully Bevilaqua’s Absence?