Chicago's WNBA Playoff Dreams Slip-Slidin' Away As Phoenix Mercury Rises

John HowellAnalyst IAugust 2, 2010

Phoenix, AZ-- With 20 seconds left Chicago's Sylvia Fowles pulled down a rebound, leading Phoenix by one in US Air Arena. Victory was in hand.
But it wasn't. Fowles threw a bad pass toward Epiphany Prince. The ball bounced off Prince's foot. Phoenix gets possession.
Phoenix scores, going ahead by one. Chicago gets the ball back. Jia Perkins throws up a deuce. The ball started to bounce off the rim, then fell back through. Chicago leads by one.
With 3.6 seconds remaining, Phoenix calls time, then inbounded in the front court. Chicago's goal is not to foul and make Phoenix earn a basket if they can, in less than four seconds. 
Chicago fouls. Phoenix's Diana Turasi hits both free-throws. Mercury wins.
Chicago coach Steven Key has been telling the press for a while now that he was looking forward to playing the Western Conference teams. As the Sky makes its stretch run toward the playoffs, the coach has pinned his hopes on the weakness of the other conference. Any Eastern Conference team would be in second place in the West. 
But you and I know what happens when we make assumptions. And any sports fan knows that a weaker record does not necessarily make a weaker team, especially on any given day.
But it wasn't the first time Chicago let a game slip away that should have been firmly in their grasp. They had several double digit leads in the contest. They out-rebounded the Mercury 39-31. Sylvia Fowles scored a career-high 35 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Fowles started the game on fire, scoring a Sky franchise record 18 points in the first quarter.

Jia Perkins finished with 23 points and five rebounds. Epiphanny Prince added 14 points and five assists. 

The game was in hand. It could have been won. It was Chicago's to lose, and they lost it, by a final score of 97-96.  

In addition to Diana Turasi, former Sky star Candice Dupree helped the Sky fall, with 19 points and six rebounds, shooting seven of eight from the field. 

The Sky remain winless in their history to the Mercury, last year's WNBA champions. With the win Phoenix sits at 12-13.

After losing a revenge match to the Seattle Storm in Seattle on Friday, Chicago has fallen from their late season high water mark of 12-12 to 12-15, with the prospect of post-season play approaching junk bond status at this point.

A Seattle fan's sign in Key Arena Friday night seemed to sum it up well: "Chicken Little was right."

The partisan Seattle announcers calling play by play at Friday night's game said Chicago needs more than one star (Sylvia Fowles) before they can expect to be better than a .500 team.

With the Candice Dupree trade, Chicago had hoped the addition of Shameka Christon and Catherine Kraayveld would add enough support to Fowles to lift the Sky out of its four season run in the cellar. But Christon has missed the past six weeks with an injury and Kraayveld's play has been disappointingly inconsistent, having been replaced in the starting lineup by Mistie Bass.  

Perhaps if Christon had been healthy down the stretch Chicago would be in a different place right now. But then again, maybe not. When Christon was healthy, the Sky were struggling. In terms of win percentage, they've done better without her.

Bottom line, they've got to find it in themselves to beat the rest of their Western opponents if they expect to make the playoffs. And if they don't, or even if they do, management would do well to keep looking for more star power to hitch to a star named Sylvia.