Courtney Vandersloot and her Chicago Sky teammates would prefer to take the lead early on. Instead, they have been rallying from big deficits in the WNBA playoffs.
In their latest game, Sylvia Fowles scored 27 points to help the Sky overcome a 14-point deficit to outlast the Indiana Fever 86-84 in double-overtime on Monday, evening the best-of-3 Eastern Conference finals.
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The Sky rallied from 14 points down in Game 1 before falling to the Fever 77-70. Chicago also beat Atlanta in the decisive Game 3 of the first round after trailing by 20 points.
”We would all love to be the team that pushes out to the lead,” Vandersloot said. ”But at this point, when it happens, this is playoffs. That’s an experienced basketball team over there. We just need to know we’ve been in this position before and that’s one thing that keeps us together. We’ve done it before and we’re just going to keep pushing.”
Game 3 is Wednesday in Indianapolis. The winner will face either defending champion Minnesota or Phoenix in the finals.
Vandersloot had 18 points and Allie Quigley added 16 for the fourth-seeded Sky, who earned their first home playoff victory. Both of Chicago’s victories in the first round against Atlanta came on the road.
”It’s second nature for them to bounce back and stick together and feed off each other,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said.
All-Star Elena Delle Donne had just nine points on 4-for-11 shooting but her layup gave the Sky a four-point lead with 1:41 left in the second overtime. Chatman said Delle Donne dealt with tightness in her back.
Shavonte Zellous scored 20 points, Tamika Catchings had 16 and Erlana Larkins added 15 for the second-seeded Fever, the 2012 WNBA champions who are trying to reach the finals for the third time in six years.
”All they lack is playoff experience, and they’re getting that now,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said.
Though Fowles overcame early foul trouble and was dominant against a smaller team, backcourt play proved the difference for Chicago. While the Fever’s guards won the matchup in Game 1, the Sky’s guards triumphed in Game 2.
Indiana’s Briann January had eight points after scoring 19 in Game 1. For Chicago, Quigley and Vandersloot combined for 34 points on 11-for-25 shooting and 10 assists.
”They’ve got to be shooting over us, not going by us,” Dunn said. ”It’ll be a battle of the backcourts, and everybody else will be on Sylvia. And then who’s got Delle Donne?”
Fowles picked up her third foul with 6:34 left before halftime. With Fowles out, the Fever extended their lead from six to 14. She scored 21 points after halftime.
”She didn’t melt on screens, she didn’t disappear. She stayed aggressive,” Chatman said. ”We fed the monster. She was in beast mode in every aspect of it.”
The Sky dropped to 9-33 all-time against the Fever, including a sweep by Indiana in the first round last year.
”They know this means nothing if they don’t complete the deal in a couple days,” Chatman said.
The Sky went on a 10-0 run to pull within one in the third. Delle Donne hit a three with 6:15 left in regulation for the Sky’s first lead since the first quarter.
Delle Donne’s jumper rattled in and out with under 4 seconds left in regulation, but Tamera Young rebounded and scored to tie it with 1 second left.
In the first overtime, Catchings’ jumper tied it at 79 with 58.1 seconds left. Fowles was called for an offensive foul about 9 seconds later. After a miss by Catchings, she stole the ball, but January missed a jumper before the buzzer.
In the second overtime, January made two free throws with 12.2 remaining to cut the lead to one before Fowles hit a free throw for the final margin with 8.8 seconds left. Zellous missed a jumper before time expired.