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‘Ultra-focused’ Chicago thriving in Delle Donne’s absence

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The ultra-focused Chicago Sky win big over the Atlanta Dream 108-98 to advance to the semi-finals of the WNBA playoffs.

Gary Dineen - Getty Images

ROSEMONT, IL — Mentally the Chicago Sky showed they are more than prepared for this year’s playoffs. The Sky flexed its confidence throughout its 108-98 win over the Atlanta Dream.

“I think our team came out ultra-focused,” guard Cappie Pondexter said. “It was good to see us come out with that kind of confidence and hunger.”

Many assume that without its franchise player Elena Delle Donne, the Sky don’t have a realistic shot at advancing to the WNBA Finals.

Last season the Sky seemed poised to compete for a championship, before losing in the first round to a feisty Indiana Fever team.

This season, only Chatman and her players believe they have enough to win it all.

“I didn’t feel any panic or frustration when we didn’t do things well,” Chatman said. “That’s the next level in [our team’s] maturity.”

All season Chicago has shown it’s capable of playing at an elite level, but have allowed numerous opponents to will their way back into games.

The Sky – sans Delle Donne – can compete with any team in the WNBA, yet its focus in the semi-finals will be worth watching.

Chicago utilized its offensive prowess to jump out to an early 12-point lead midway through the first quarter, but allowed the Dream to cut the deficit to just six points at halftime.

The Sky’s primary concern has always been maintaining its focus. Big leads are valuable but having that killer instinct is what separates the elite teams.

Today, they had that killer instinct.

Chicago, after giving up a double-digit lead, came out re-energized to start the second half and built a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter, a lead they would not give up.

“Most importantly, to go in at halftime and to make an adjustment and limit [McCoughtry] in the second half, every coach wants to do that,” Chatman said.

Versus Atlanta, the Sky’s biggest concern was superstar Angel McCoughtry. The eight-year veteran is a prolific scorer and can take over games – as she did in Atlanta’s first round win against Seattle, in which she scored 37 points.

Chicago couldn’t keep McCoughtry from scoring – she finished the game with 27 points. Guard Tiffany Hayes had a great game as well, finishing with a game-high 30 points. Other than those two, the Dream faltered on offense.

Chatman’s squad, on the other hand, had four players in double figures and relied on its pick-and-roll offense to create as many opportunities as possible over Atlanta.

Both Courtney Vandersloot and Pondexter powered the offense by constantly putting the Dream’s defense in pick-and-roll situations.

Pondexter finished the game with 16 points, while Vandersloot added 21 points, 13 assists, and four steals.

The unsung hero of the game was forward Jessica Breland. She helped carry the Sky on both ends of the floor. The New York native finished the game with 20 points and 16 rebounds.

Chicago has never had an issue excelling on the stat sheet.

This game, though, showed that they’re more focused than ever – especially without Delle Donne – to prove their doubters wrong.

With today’s win, the Sky advance to the semi-finals against the No. 2 seed Los Angeles Sparks.

Chicago’s whole season has been leading up to this series.

Now, the Sky will have to prove mentally they’re ready for the spotlight.