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LAS VEGAS – The Sky will play its biggest game of the year on Sunday.

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That was the message from coach and interim general manager Emre Vatansever as he concluded the team’s final practice before facing elimination against the Aces in Game 2. The turmoil the Sky faced is what they believe qualifies them to flip the script of the Aces and force a decisive third game in Chicago.

“(The mentality) doesn’t change,” Courtney Williams said. “We have been do or die all season. Our backs have been against the wall. So we just have to do what we do.”

The fact is, the Sky will need as close to a perfect game as possible to hang with the No. 1 Aces. More specifically, the Sky’s defense trio needs to show up.

Kahleah Copper, a three-time All-Star, was the only player to score in double figures in Game 1, while Marina Mabrey and Williams combined for just 16 points and were 7-for-21 from the field.

“Their guards are a problem,” Becky Hammon said after her team’s 87-59 victory in Game 1. “Our guards played great defense. Our big men played great defense. It takes a whole team to protect that journey.”

In Sky’s three regular-season games against the Aces, which MVP candidate A’ja Wilson said were three incomplete games by her team, Copper and Mabrey largely led the way.

Copper averaged 22.6 points, including a career-high 37 points in July, against the Aces during the regular season. Mabrey, who returned to practice with the Sky on Saturday after missing a day due to illness, averaged 17.6 points in their three-game series. Williams was less effective in scoring against the Aces during the season, but in all three games he finished with at least five assists, including an 11-point, 11-assist double-double in July.

The Sky were swept by the Aces during the season by a margin of 10.6 points, indicating the level of perfection needed simply to make things interesting.

“You have to be confident in what you do,” Williams said. “I pride myself on not just having to score. I know I can affect the game in many other ways. We’ve shown that we can win games without necessarily having the best shooting night. It is a matter of our effort and doing the little things.”

Against the Aces, who had the WNBA’s top-scoring offense for the fourth consecutive year, effective shooting percentage will be important, as will taking at least one of the Aces’ top four scorers out of their game.

Chelsea Gray had a game-high 20 points against the Sky in Game 1, while Wilson, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum all ended up scoring in double figures. Wilson’s 14 points, below his regular-season average of 22.8, were the fewest of the top four and were still far from enough to even make a dent in the Aces’ offensive firepower.

Alysha Clark scored 13 points, going 2-for-3 from deep off the Aces bench.

“It’s just about making it harder,” Elizabeth Williams said. “But you also have to do a lot of work to not allow actors to have too much of an impact.”

The Sky have not been shy about showing their pride in clinching the eighth seed in the playoffs given the way the season unfolded. But when looking at the bigger picture, simply making the playoffs is not something that will satisfy them.

“Yeah, we’re happy to be here,” Copper said. “But we want to continue climbing. It’s not like we just say, ‘We made it, (expletive), whatever.’ “We want to achieve it and make an impact and we want to get to the next round.”



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