You knew it was going to happen. Elena Delle Donne is too incredible of a talent to not wash over a game like a tidal wave in attempt to lead her Chicago to a win. But, as Atlanta coach Michael Cooper said afterward, she could do her damage — which she did Tuesday — and the Dream could’ve still won.
Instead, Atlanta PG Jasmine Thomas missed two free-throws with 17.3 seconds left in a decisive Game 3 playoff matchup against Chicago. Delle Donne capitalized on the sliver of hope to score the go-ahead bucket with 8.2 seconds left to give the Sky an 81-80 win.
With the upset against the No. 1 seed, the fourth-seeded Sky (2-1) advance to the franchise’s first Eastern Conference Finals. Delle Donne, the league’s Rookie of the Year last season, finished with a career-high 34 points.
“It’s like a Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight, you have ‘em on the ropes a few quarters of the game and sometimes your great players will wheel you again,” Cooper said. “Just like in Game 2 where Angel (McCoughtry) came and brought it for us to help us get here, Delle Donne came and brought it for them.”
Delle Donne outscored the Dream 17-13 alone in the fourth quarter, dragging her team back from a 20-point first-half deficit. An unstoppable performance from a player who wouldn’t let a Lyme disease flare-up stop her from returning for six of the final seven regular-season games to assure the Sky a second postseason appearance in the franchise’s nine-year history.
Chicago will face No. 2 seed Indiana (2-0) in the conference Finals. The teams faced each other last year, the Fever easily dismissing the Sky in the opening round. Indiana won the regular-season series against Chicago 3-2 this year.
“Obviously, Atlanta owned us for much of the game,” Chicago coach Pokey Chatman said. “They had more offensive rebounds than we had total rebounds at the half. They were having their way with us in terms of points in the paint. Everything was not in our favor, but we stayed the course, and when it got late it became time for players to make plays. My big time player (Delle Donne) stepped up. But none of that matters if they don’t stay the course, trust the process and keep digging, digging and digging. I was extremely happy we did that.”
The Finals rematch pits Chicago PG Courtney Vandersloot (Kentwood HS/Gonzaga) and Indiana PG Briann January (Lewis & Clark HS) against each other. January led the Fever to its 2012 WNBA championship and is averaging 14.5 points and 4.5 assists this postseason. Vandersloot scored the Game 1 game-winner for Chicago and had the assist on Delle Donne’s game-winner Tuesday.
The best-of-three Eastern Conference Finals starts Saturday at 4pm PT on NBA-TV or the league’s LiveAccess website.
In the Western Conference, Minnesota and Phoenix will meet in the Finals. That best-of-three series starts Friday at 7pm PT on NBA-TV or the league’s LiveAccess website.
Here’s the video of Chicago’s comeback (yes, that’s Swin Cash on the voice-over) and stats:
Chicago Sky 81, Atlanta Dream 80
Chicago trailed in Atlanta tonight by 16 points at the end of the third quarter (67-51) but outscored the Dream 30-13 in the fourth quarter to win, 81-80. This was the first time since the league switched from “two halves” to “four quarters” that a team won a playoff game after trailing by at least sixteen points at the end of the third quarter. The 2006 season marked the first year of four-quarter games.
The Sky used a 19-2 run to turn a 72-55 deficit with 8:12 left into a 74-74 tie with 3:33 remaining. After Atlanta grabbed a 78-74 lead, the Sky closed with a 7-2 run, with Elena Delle Donne scoring the winning basket with 8.2 seconds left
Elena Delle Donne scored a career-high 34 points, including 17 points in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Delle Donne nailed the game winning shot with 8.2 seconds remaining to help the Sky secure an 81-80 victory.
Chicago advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time in franchise history.
Sylvia Fowles, who had 12 double-doubles in 20 regular-season games, had her second in three games in this series, finishing with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Her 15 rebounds were a playoff career high, surpassing her previous best of 14.
Tamera Young scored a playoff and season high 16 points and added five assists.
Chicago committed just nine turnovers against an Atlanta defense that forced the most turnovers in the league.
All-Star Game MVP Shoni Schimmel only scored 2 points, her only bucket coming in the final minute, but had five rebounds and six assists.
The Atlanta Dream had all five starters score in double figures, led by Erika de Souza with 18. Angel McCoughtry coming off 39 points in Game 2 was held to 18 points on Tuesday night.
Atlanta’s forward Sancho Lyttle recorded the only double-double for the Dream with 14 points and 13 rebounds to go along with four assists.