WNBA Playoffs: After Dealing With Adversity Indiana and Chicago Have One Hurdle Left In The East - Each Other
Forged by the fires of adversity, the second-seeded Indiana Fever and fourth-seeded Chicago Sky have overcome plenty of obstacles to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
Both teams are mirror images of each other.
Their star players missed significant chunks of the season. Indiana’s Tamika Catchings sat out the first 17 games of the season with a sore back. Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne missed 17 games suffering from the effects of Lyme Disease.
Other key players for each team have missed games or been bothered by nagging injuries.
Yet, they’re standing in each other’s way of a trip to the WNBA Finals.
Last season, the Fever, as No. 4 seed, swept the top-seeded Sky in the first round of the playoffs. Throw out the Fever’s 3-2 regular season series win because they only played one game when both squads were at full strength.
Both squads closed the season strong.
The Fever used a four-game winning streak during the last week of the season following a hideous home loss to Washington to clinch the No. 2 seed. The Sky soared to the finish by winning five of six games during a two-week period late in the season.
The Fever enjoy the significant edge in experience as this is their fourth consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Indiana with Catchings, Briann January, Shevonte Zellous, Karima Christmas and Erlana Larkins upset the Minnesota Lynx to win the 2012 crown.
Indiana, which made the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year, is looking to advance to the WNBA Finals for the third time in six seasons and extend the career of coach Lin Dunn a little longer before she heads off to what she calls the next chapter after the Fever play their final game in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Sky are continuing to gain momentum at the perfect time of the season.
By beating Atlanta in the opening round, the Sky won their first playoff series in franchise history.
Chicago is the youngest team in the WNBA and for many of them, Saturday’s opening game at Indiana’s Bankers Life Fieldhouse, will be their sixth playoff contest in their careers.
For perspective, Catchings has played in 53 career playoff games, which is more than the entire Sky team (43 career playoff games).
She was magnificent in averaging 24 points and 10.5 rebounds in the two victories over the Mystics last week. She was also 23-for-24 from the foul line in the two wins.
During the Mystics series, Catchings became the leading rebounder in WNBA postseason history and leading scorer in league playoffs history with 914 points surpassing Lisa Leslie.
Shr has scored 20 or more points 21 times in her playoff career.
The former Tennessee all-American already owns all-time playoffs records for steals, free throws and double-doubles with 22, recording one in 41 percent of the playoff contests she’s appeared.
January admitted following Saturday’s 81-76 overtime win over the Mystics that their playoff experience was a crucial factor in overcoming a five-point fourth-quarter deficit.
“It helped us a ton,” January said. “Our core has been here and done that. We know what it takes to advance in the playoffs. We really came together and played together on both ends on the court.”
Down the stretch against the Mystics in both games, the Fever’s defense made the difference.
The traps became tighter and the Mystics had difficulty running a smooth offense.
January is leader of the Fever’s defensive effort as her lockdown defense helped make her an All-Star for the first time in her career. She is also a member of the 27-woman USA National Team roster.
With the rest of the team feeding off of January’s energy and hard-work, the Fever always know they can turn to their defense whenever it’s needed.
“The biggest thing for us is our defensive intensity and we know we can always take it up another notch,” Catchings said following Indiana’s win on Saturday at the Verizon Center in Washington in overtime. “Our offense always stems from our defense and we played really well on defense as far as communicating, moving around.”
Of course, the focus of the Fever’s defense will be slowing down Delle Donne, who turned in a breathtaking performance in the decisive third game against the Dream Monday night.
Led by Delle Donne, who scored 17 of her 34 points in the fourth, Chicago staged the biggest final-quarter comeback in WNBA playoffs history. She outscored the Dream, 17-13 in the fourth quarter as the Sky rallied from a 16-point deficit entering the final 10 minutes.
She scored the winning basket with 8.2 seconds remaining. It was her biggest moment of her fledging career that promises many more.
In two games against the Fever, Delle Donne averaged 18.5 points per game. She has made 22 consecutive free throws after missing her only attempt in the opening game against Atlanta.
“She's capable of scoring pretty much anywhere on the court,” Catchings said on the Indiana Fever’s official website. “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. It's not just a one-on-one matchup. It's the whole team.”
Meanwhile, Catchings averaged 20.3 points per game in the three times she played against the Sky this season.
Another key performer for the Sky all season has been James Madison product Tamera Young.
She has been the glue that has held Chicago together throughout the season. Young enjoyed a series to remember against Atlanta. She scored 16 points in the clinching win against the Dream.
In addition, she also played stellar defense against Angel McCoughtry down the stretch, which helped the Sky get back into the game.
In the three game series, Young averaged 12 points per game and scored in double digits in both wins.
Courtney Vandersloot, who missed 15 games with a sprained MCL, drilled the game-winner in the opener against the Dream and she looks to be getting in a groove.
She averaged 6.6 assists per game against the Dream. Sixth-woman of the year Allie Quigley, center Sylvia Fowles and guard Epiphanay Prince gives the Sky plenty of firepower to throw at the Fever.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity this season,” Young said earlier this month before a game against the Mystics. “It became an opportunity for others to step up. People have had to play multiple positions, stick together and be mentally tougher.”
Winning a championship is never easy and though the road to this point has featured numerous pot-holes and detours, the Fever and Sky are where they always believed they would be when the season started.
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