'The support was amazing': Sky top Lynx in WNBA's first-ever game in Canada
TORONTO — Canada's — Toronto's especially — support left quite the impression Saturday. And it was welcomed by Lynx forward Bridget Carleton.
Kahleah Copper had 18 points and nine rebounds in leading the Chicago Sky to an 82-74 win over Minnesota in the WNBA's first-ever game in Canada. The pre-season contest was held in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena.
"The environment was great," said Carleton of Chatham, Ont. "A little bit nerve-racking, I think, for everyone just with the buildup around the game."
"I just think the support was amazing," the 25-year-old added. "Obviously for the WNBA in general, but for me, I felt the love from all the fans, so that was really cool to see. It's not often I get to play in Canada so that was a cool experience for me."
The possibility of Toronto getting an expansion franchise had been a hot topic during the last couple of days. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert touched on it pre-game, saying that Toronto is among a narrowed list of about 10 cities being looked at for expansion franchises based on a number of factors.
"Toronto scored very high on the list, so Toronto is definitely on the list," Engelbert said. "But we'll continue to work on that through the season and hopefully have something to announce later."
Minnesota's Tiffany Mitchell thought Toronto would be well suited for a team.
"They showed support since yesterday, just walking down the streets and hearing cheers … so I think Toronto is a great spot to put a team here," Mitchell said post-game. "The support is amazing, it was really fun playing in front of them."
Chicago's Morgan Bertsch shared a similar sentiment about the environment on Saturday.
"It was really awesome," she said. "I've never played in front of that many people, for sure.
"Just being able to come out and feel the support from Toronto and from Canada overall, it was really incredible. Sold-out crowd, they really brought the energy … it's a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity."
Kayana Traylor and Robyn Parks combined for 25 points off the bench and Bertsch added 12 for Chicago.
Mitchell had 19 points and six assists for Minnesota. Rachel Banham and Kayla McBride each contributed 13 points apiece.
Carleton had three points and two rebounds in 12 minutes for the Lynx. She received standing ovations when starting lineups were announced and in speaking to the crowd.
It was the final pre-season game for both teams as they look ahead to their regular-season opener against one another on May 19 in Minneapolis, Minn.
Courtney Williams put Chicago on the board first as the Sky jumped out to an early 7-0 lead. However, the Lynx followed with a 9-2 run to knot the game with 4:07 left in the first quarter.
Anneli Maley made a buzzer-beating layup — but missed the free throw to follow — that closed out a 10-2 run for Chicago, which held a 19-11 lead after the first.
In the second quarter, the Lynx closed the gap early. After Kristine Anigwe pushed Chicago's lead to 10, Mitchell scored five points in leading a 10-0 Lynx run to even the game.
Carleton scored her first basket of the game on an open layup with 25 seconds left but the Lynx went into halftime down 37-30.
Banham gave Minnesota its first lead with 5:57 left in the third quarter on a three-pointer. Banham hit another one shortly after as part of a 12-4 Lynx run to take a 49-45 lead. Mitchell later closed a 9-3 run on a layup with one second left and took a 60-54 edge at the end of three.
The Sky went on an 8-0 run, including two three-pointers from Parks, to take a 65-64 lead 3:06 into the fourth quarter.
Traylor started heating up shortly after. She hit a three-pointer to put Chicago ahead 70-67, then another to go up 75-72 after McBride tied the game for Minnesota.
Traylor collected a loose ball and hit an open three to make it 78-72. After Mitchell made it a four-point game, Bertsch and Copper pushed the lead to eight with 1:08 remaining.
Saturday's game marked the third pre-season WNBA game to be played outside of the United States, following games in Monterrey, Mexico in 2004 (Detroit Shock vs. San Antonio Silver Stars) and Manchester, England in 2011 (Atlanta Dream vs. Great Britain Women’s National Team).
Montreal native and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort was shown courtside during the second quarter, to the pleasure of the crowd.
Also courtside was former Toronto Raptor Serge Ibaka — and member of the 2019 championship team — who was given a deafening standing ovation from the crowd.
Canadian singer Jully Black performed during halftime with a dance crew alongside her.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2023.
Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press