Can Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky rally in WNBA Finals?

Can Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky rally in WNBA Finals?
Elena Delle Donne (left) and Brittany Griner .You'll be seeing this for a long time in the WNBA

“The road to the Finals hasn’t been easy for us and we had to fight to get here.  We knew this Finals wasn’t going to be any easier, in fact we knew it was going to be a tough task because Phoenix is a good team.  But I think we deserve to be here and we’re going to keep fighting.”

Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky point guard, at Monday’s press conference

I will spit my tooth out before I count the Chicago Sky out of the 2014 WNBA Finals.

Let’s keep some perspective here before writing off the Sky (and Elena Delle Donne) before Game Three of the WNBA Finals Friday night at UIC Pavilion.

Yes, Tuesday’s 97-68 loss in Phoenix was nothing short of excruciating.  And Diana Taurasi,  Brittany Griner,  and Candace Dupree have been spectacular, as they have been all season.  But still… it ain’t over til it’s over, kids! Even Griner knows the Mercury can’t relax:

“We definitely saw (the Chicago Sky)  go into other opponent’s arenas and got wins in Game 3s.  They’ve come back from being down 20.  Like I’ve said, they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t good.  So we can’t relax.”

Brittany Griner, Phoenix Mercury center, at Monday’s press conference

Let’s recap how far the Sky have come. At the start of the season, I doubt anyone would have given odds that the Sky would even be in the WNBA Finals. Playoffs, sure.  I said one and done, like last year. I reasoned that Elena Delle Donne could probably get them past whoever they played in the first round. But not into the Conference Championships. And certainly not the Finals.

To make matters more complicated, the Sky have persevered through Sylvia Fowles’ torn labrum, Delle Donne’s extended absence due to Lyme Disease, Epiphanny Prince’s personal troubles, Courtney Vandersloot’s injuries…becoming the first WNBA team ever to make the playoffs with a 15-19 (losing) record. They benefited from an Eastern Conference devastated by injuries to perennial postseason teams like the Indiana Fever and the Atlanta Dream.

As Delle Donne pointed out in a playoff press conference, this postseason is  first time the whole team has been together and healthy all season.

Coach Pokey Chatman discussed the horror of the loss in Tuesday’s press conference:

“There were so many horrible sequences.  You had possession of the ball with four-and-half seconds left, you turn the ball over, and-one, defensive three seconds, no block out on a free throw, foul and I mean I can go on and on.  You can’t do that against any team, let alone the best team in the league on their home court in the WNBA Finals.  We never gave ourselves a chance.”

Pokey Chatman, Chicago Sky Coach/General Manager, on Tuesday’s game

Courtney Vandersloot (right) needs to stay in 'beast mode' at home

Courtney Vandersloot (right) needs to stay in ‘beast mode’ at home

Despite the mostly horrific spectacle that was Tuesday’s loss in Phoenix, I saw some things I liked in the Sky’s performance:

  • The Sky led early, with Ephiphanny Prince scoring the first four points
  • Griner spitting out a tooth on the floor of the US Airways Center  after getting elbowed hard
  • Vandersloot delivered four assists, raising her 2014 playoff total to 47.  She’s averaging 5.9 assists per game this postseason.
  • Centers Sylvia Fowles (6’6) and Griner (6’8) in hand-to-hand combat
  • Fowles adding 5 rebounds and two blocked shots despite going just 2-for-11 on shooting
  • Elena Delle Donne’s 22 points, despite searing back pain and spending every timeout with a heating pads.

But here’s what’s true. Delle Donne, as great as she is, can’t keep the Sky in the playoffs by herself. Vandersloot discussed it after Tuesday’s loss.

“It can’t be just Elena. She’s not going to win these games for us because it’s not just one person on their team. Everybody has to step up and give a little bit more.”  

Courtney Vandersloot, Sky point guard

Damn straight.

It’s been a ratings bonanza, at least. According to figures released by the WNBA, Game 2 delivered a 0.6 overnight rating, the overnight number for an WNBA postseason game on ESPN or ESPN2 since 2007. Top markets included Phoenix, Atlanta, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Hartford/New Haven, Greenville, Columbus and Greensboro, Nashville & Memphis, and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Looking ahead to Friday’s game….both sides will be a little more rested. Delle Donne mentioned to that she has a new back brace that seems to be helping her pain.

The key to extending the season will be Delle Donne’s health and her ability to play.

Other keys include:

  • Limiting turnovers
  • Scoring points in the paint
  • Outside shooting
  • Avoiding blocks from Griner
  • Successfully guarding Dupree and Taurasi

And one final element that will always serve to an advantage, especially in the noisy UIC Pavilion…the Sixth Man. Even when the crowds were only 2,ooo or 3,000, the intimacy of the atmosphere made it one of the noisiest stadiums anywhere. The roar of the crowd will be the final element in determining the Sky’s ability to take one away from the juggernaut that is the 2014 Phoenix Mercury.


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