Rosemont, IL — The Chicago Sky have clinched a playoff berth without franchise player Elena Delle Donne after a thrilling 98-97 overtime win against the Minnesota Lynx.
Chicago head coach Pokey Chatman utilized Delle Donne’s absence tonight as a chance to give her bench players valuable minutes before the playoffs begin.
“First and foremost this was a hard-fought win,” Chatman said. “It wasn’t always pretty, but I thought every player that went into the game found a way to contribute. Every player stepped up.”
With the reigning MVP sidelined indefinitely with a thumb injury, Chicago is trying to finish the season with more wins than losses.
The Sky accomplished that tonight by continuously clawing themselves back into the game against the perennial title-contending Lynx. Chatman’s squad is now 2-2 without Delle Donne, demonstrating that they are a resilient bunch without their star player.
There were 17 lead changes throughout the game and 18 ties, including the end of regulation. Chatman’s squad had trouble finding a rhythm offensively without Delle Donne but found an answer in their backcourt play.
Chicago has arguably one of the best guard trios in the WNBA. Chatman has Courtney Vandersloot, Cappie Pondexter – who recently became the fifth all-time leading scorer in WNBA history -- and Allie Quigley at her disposal. The trio finished with a combined 48 points.
Vandersloot struggled early but helped will her team to victory. She showed how savvy of a player she is by purposely missing her second free throw with only seconds left in the fourth quarter and somehow coming down with the most important rebound of the game.
“[Vandersloot] is a veteran now,” Chatman said. “She can have the bad body language [to start the game], but it doesn’t affect her next play.”
Vandersloot then forced a foul and was able to knock down two more free throws to tie the game at 86 with 2.7 seconds left.
Minnesota was not able to recover.
Pondexter took over much of the scoring duties and asserted herself as the one to lift the Sky offense. Time and time again, she hit jumpers coming off of pick-and-rolls and layups driving to the lane to keep Chicago in the game.
“I’m not a top-five scorer for no reason,” Pondexter said in reaction to her performance tonight. “I’ve been doing this my whole career. It just so happens that we have a young and exciting player in Delle Donne who has the scoring load most of the time. It’s just my time to step up right now.”
For much of the fourth quarter, Chicago relied on Pondexter and forward Tamera Young for its scoring. They both utilized the midrange jumper to keep Chicago within striking distance, with Young finishing the game with 16 points.
It is games like these that will be crucial to Chatman’s group once the playoffs roll around given the uncertainty of Delle Donne’s return.
“It's nice to get some momentum as we closed out the regular season and to play well as we get ready for the playoffs,” Chatman said.
The Sky have only two games left to play before the playoffs start. Though they’ll avoid playing in an elimination game, they still want to show the WNBA that they can win without their superstar.