Didn't I say that the Chicago Sky's Elena Delle Donne is just like Michael Jordan?
The Sky had blown the opportunity to finish off the Atlanta Dream at home last Sunday night. On the strength of Dream star Angel McCoughtry's 39 points, the Dream edged out the Sky, and forced a Game Three.
Delle Donne engineered a Jordan- like comeback for the Chicago Sky in Atlanta. If nothing else happens in her career (and I think it will), facing elimination, Delle Donne took the Sky on her back, scoring 17 of her career-high 34 points in the fourth quarter.
She saved her most dramatic moment for the last. It reminded me of Jordan's clutch hit in 1998 vs. the Utah Jazz, with 5.6 seconds left, which won their sixth (and so far, last) NBA Championship.
Down one point, with 16.2 seconds remaining, the Sky drew up a play to get the ball in Delle Donne’s hands. She delivered the game-winning basket with 8.2 seconds remaining and the Sky pulled out the 81-80 victory and eliminating the Dream, who'd won the regular season title and had three NBA Finals series in the five years of the franchise.
Like Michael, Delle Donne knows how to read and run a team into the next round. At the press conference at Phillips Arena, she talked about taking over the game in the fourth quarter.
"I just know that when we were in huddles and I was talking to the team, everyone had that look in their eye like we were not done yet – we were not ready to go home.
I knew we were playing pretty good defense, just not doing the little things like finishing with a rebound, finishing with a contested shot. In the fourth quarter, coach put the ball in my hands, the team trusted me and it just went from there.”
Elena Delle Donne, after the game.
With the win, the Chicago Sky advanced to the WNBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Chicago fans will be holding their collective breath, as the Sky will be battling their erstwhile foes on enemy turf....the Indiana Fever, at Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Saturday night, starting at 6 pm. The Fever advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth consecutive year by sweeping the third-seeded Washington Mystics, 81-76, on August 23.
Of the five times the Sky and Fever met during the regular season, the Sky's won two out of three at the Allstate Arena. But when faced with the 'sixth man' crowds in Indianapolis, as well as the absence of Delle Donne in one of those games, they lost twice in Indianapolis. Most recently, it was a 71-67 win for the Fever on Saturday, August 16.
During that game, when Delle Donne was just back from battling Lyme Disease, Fever star Tamika Catchings scored 25 points, and guard Briann January added 14 points. Allie Quigley led the Sky with 17 points. Still finding her legs, Della Donne still had 14 points, and Epiphanny Prince scored 11.
For the Fever, who made the #2 seed in the playoffs with a 16-18 record, this would be an ideal time to shine. They've been in the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. They're used to the pressure. Catchings is healthy after missing 17 games this season with a back injury. And it's Coach Linn Dunn's last season. It makes sense that they'd like to extend their season as long as possible.
And they know how to win against a Chicago Sky team that's starving for playoff success. Catchings and January have been an offensive juggernaut. As noted on WNBA.com, they've got a 'hurry-up, driving and slashing style.' And that's spelled nothing but T-R-O-U-B-L-E for the Sky.
Catchings, who's matched up with Delle Donne in Saturday's game, knows what to expect from her.
“She's (Delle Donne) capable of scoring pretty much anywhere on the court. The biggest thing for me is just trying to apply pressure to her, make it hard for her to score, make it hard for her to catch the ball.”
Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever star, to WNBA.com
Good luck with that. Seeing the determination in her eyes, watching her ability to take over games and make seemingly impossible plays, the series is going to come down to who really wants it more. Both have succeeded before, against each other.
But there's only one Elena Delle Donne, and how she inspires the team. Tamera Young, for example, had one of her best games Tuesday night, shutting down McCoughtry by getting into her face...and into her head. At the press conference in Atlanta, she told the press:
“I feel really confident in this team and we’ve had a lot of adversity. We were down by 20 some points tonight and we came all the way back with a win. We know what Indiana does. We know how they play, and we know what we have to do. It’s not really about them; it’s about us. We have the momentum right now and that gives us more confidence to be prepared."
Saturday's game will air on NBATV, starting at 6 pm CT. The Sky return home to host the second game of the series at Allstate Arena on Monday, September 1 at 3:00pm CT. Game two will air on NBATV. The final game in the series, if needed, will be held in Indianapolis and is scheduled for Wednesday, August 3 at 6:00 p.m. CT.