The Chicago Sky hand-delivered a message to the Liberty on its own Garden floor Thursday night: The road to a first WNBA title may have some speed bumps.
Especially if the effort doesn't match the occasion.
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Courtney Vandersloot went 5-for-5 from three-point range on the way to 21 points, and Elena Delle Donne and Allie Quigley poured in 19 points apiece as the playoff-bound Sky gave the first-place Liberty its worst loss of the season, an 82-60 blowout.
"They kicked our butt all day long, but it was a great lesson for us," coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We've been going along, playing our game, playing hard, doing all this stuff. We didn't really have that tonight, but . . . they showed us the atmosphere that we're going to face coming into the playoffs, which was good."
The Liberty had won three straight and was shooting to tie the franchise record for wins at 22. There are still four games left, though. The magic number for this 21-9 team to clinch the East remained at two, and its magic number to clinch home-court advantage throughout the playoffs remained at three.
"I think that they just wanted it more," said the Liberty's Epiphanny Prince, the conference's player of the month for August who was traded by Chicago in exchange for Cappie Pondexter in the offseason. "We didn't come out with a sense of urgency."
Pondexter was out with a concussion, but the 6-5 Delle Donne, the WNBA's leading scorer at 23.7 points per game, was back after missing two games with a foot problem.
Chicago (19-12) went on a 10-0 run to go up 19-11 late in the first quarter, and Delle Donne powered the Sky burst, driving for two, tossing in a three and nailing two from the line.
"It was our mental approach going into the game. We usually don't start games like this," said Tina Charles, who paced the Liberty with 17 points and eight rebounds.
By halftime, it was 46-27, and Chicago had made 8 of 12 threes. The Sky, which had been 0-3 against the Liberty, finished 9 of 15 from beyond the arc. The Liberty misfired on all seven of its tries.
"This was just a huge mental game for us, obviously heading into playoffs now," Delle Donne said. "We hadn't beaten the Liberty yet and to come here on their home court and get a win was huge for us just mentally."
Vandersloot nailed a three to open the cushion to 22 at 55-33. The Liberty got it down to 11 in the fourth before Chicago floored it again.
"Give them a lot of credit," Laimbeer said. "They came out and played harder than us, and they outdefended us."