The Chicago Sky conquered the Indiana Fever with their back up against the wall, pulling off a 108-103 overtime victory Tuesday night at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
Coming off a 19-point comeback victory on the road against New York on Sunday and the announcement of a new team of investors committing to a long-term $85 million valuation, they continue to forge a path to becoming a perennial contender in more ways than one.
With under 10 players to utilize due to injuries, the Sky have been able to make due with a flexible and versatile rotation.
A major staple for their success has been their captain Kahleah Copper. She is currently averaging a career-high 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds and was a major factor in their comeback win against the Liberty, scoring 17 of her 27 points in the third quarter alone.
Fellow starters Elizabeth Williams, Marina Mabrey, Courtney Williams and Alanna Smith have been stepping up to fill in the gaps.
The Sky got off fast start Tuesday night, jumping out to a 10-5 lead through the first three minutes. Effective ball movement, great transition and a solid job at intercepting the passing lanes on defense propelled them to the early lead. Mabrey got on a roll early scoring six points, and a couple 3-pointers by C. Williams and A. Smith were helpful as well.
However, Indiana came roaring back by playing almost the exact same way. Led by Aliyah Boston’s inside game, the Fever went on an 11-4 run to take a 16-14 lead with just under four minutes to play in the first.
The Sky were doing all the right things and taking good shots, they just weren’t going in, and at one point the team was shooting 44 percent from the field compared to Indiana’s 57 percent.
As the quarter started to wind down, Mabrey was at the helm. She hit two crucial free throws to give Chicago a 22-20 lead with 1:18 remaining. Two additional free throws and a basket inside by Sika Koné gave Chicago a bit of breathing room in the final seconds.
At the end of the first, the Sky led 26-25.
The second quarter began with a back-and-forth battle. Mabrey was still scoring at will, reaching 15 points. She was also playing strong defense. The others on offense were seemingly stuck in that pattern of taking good shots but not following through, with everyone else held under 10 points.
Meanwhile, the Sky’s defense was largely hampered in the paint as Boston continued to dominate. Lexie Hull was doing well beyond the arc to give Indiana momentum.
The Sky’s defense began to look out of sorts and their offense was largely stagnant. Grace Berger hit a three near the five-minute mark to give the Fever a seven-point lead at 40-33.
With 2:28 remaining in the first half, the Fever led 43-37. A. Smith hit two free throws to cut it to four. Chicago was looking for a few more sparks to get them back to their dominating ways.
But Indiana was not to be deterred as they started to do most of their damage from the 3-point line, including a trey by Kristy Wallace that put them up 46-39.
Chicago was starting to come apart. They couldn’t get out on a run and they were starting to be sloppy with the ball. A pull-up jumper by Copper and a fadeaway inside by Mabrey gave them some life but a wide-open drive to the hole by Erica Wheeler at the buzzer ended what was clearly an Indiana quarter.
At the half, the Fever led 50-44.
Indiana got out to a 10-point lead early in the third. On defense, the Sky’s communication was mostly non-existent, a pattern that started toward the tail end of the second.
At the halfway point of the third, Chicago started to claw their way back and found themselves within five after a jumper in the lower corner by Copper. She followed up again with another corner jumper off an inbound pass, bringing her team within three at 57-54.
Then the crowd went berserk when Dana Evans completed the 9-0 run with a huge 3-pointer that tied the game at 57 with 4:43 left in the third. By this point, Evans had already been superb on defense and had five assists to her name.
With just under two minutes remaining before the fourth, the Sky came back again courtesy of C. Williams, who hit a three to put them within one at 61-60. But Indiana continued to maintain the edge from the field, making their shots with greater frequency.
Also E. Williams reached four fouls and was completely outmatched by Boston at both ends of the floor.
With the Sky trailing by three with 1:14 left in the third, Evans stole the ball at mid-court and took it to the hole to bring Chicago back within one at 63-62.
Just as it seemed that the Sky were regaining momentum, Indiana was quick to answer. A pair of free throws from both Wheeler and Wallace put the Fever back ahead by five at 67-62 at the end of the third.
The game plan going into the fourth for Chicago was simply to protect the ball, take good shots and play strong but smart defense. Through the first four and a half minutes of the quarter, the Sky once again clawed back with a vengeance. A Copper 3-pointer brought them within two at 69-67.
By this point, Copper had 15 points whereas Mabrey hadn’t scored since the end of the first half.
Mabrey got a chance to get back on the board at the foul line with 7:53 remaining in regulation. She converted on both free throw attempts to bring the Sky back within two at 71-69. Then she put them right back where they wanted to be with a 3-pointer at the top of the key that tied the game at 72 near the 6:20 mark.
The stage was set for a comeback and it was Evans who would be the catalyst. After she was called for a foul on what was arguably a jump ball, Evans redeemed herself in the biggest way imaginable.
After Copper tied the game with a free throw-line jumper, Evans converted on a catch and shoot with 5:17 remaining, giving the Sky the lead at 76-74.
A Boston layup plus a Kelsey Mitchell three put the Fever back up 79-76 as the four-minute mark came. Shortly thereafter Mabrey hit a jumper from the corner to bring the Sky within one. The sequence of trading baskets continued as it was Mitchell, then Mabrey, then Wheeler, then Evans scroing, resulting in an Indiana lead at 83-82.
After a bank shot by Boston, the Sky felt the pressure, trailing by three. Copper went to the foul line with 2:07 left and went 1-of-2 before getting her own rebound. Then, she was fouled again and this time made both free throws to tie the game at 85.
The adrenaline was pumping for the players in Wintrust and the Sky seemed poised for yet another dramatic comeback. But Boston halted those plans with an easy layup that put the Fever up 87-85. Then, as if things weren’t dramatic enough, Evans took it upon herself to keep the Sky in contention and made a layup that tied the game once again.
Boston followed up with another basket that put Indiana up 89-87 with 22.4 seconds left, after which Chicago called a timeout.
Against a strong Indiana defense, Copper muscled her way through and off a great feed by Mabrey laid it up off the glass to tie the game at 89 with 10.3 seconds left. Then, Boston continued her superb performance by gently putting the ball in the hoop off a rebound to make it 91-89 with 2.7 seconds left on the clock.
The dramatics hit a fever pitch when the Sky offense worked to perfection as they found Alanna Smith cutting for a layup at the buzzer of regulation that tied the game at 91.
In the beginning of overtime, both sides took their time. Then Evans hit another big three to give the Sky a 94-91 lead before Victoria Vivians answered back to tie it.
In the final moments, the score was tied at 96 before a left-handed scoop shot in the lane by A. Smith put the Sky back up. Then, Evans came through in transition with a 3-pointer that gave them a five-point cushion with 50.1 seconds remaining.
The crowd got on their feet, and after an offensive foul was called against Mitchell, victory was in sight. Leave it to Evans to work wonders with a floating fadeaway one-handed jumper in the paint that put the Sky up 103-96.
Indiana was left with no other choice but to foul, and Chicago sealed the deal at the free throw line.
Four Sky players reached double figures. Mabrey had 28 points, Copper had 24 points and three assists, Smith had 18 and five and Evans had 20 and seven.
Evans recorded 12 fourth-quarter points.
Afterward, she spoke of the confidence she and her team have in her to be able to come through and credited advice given to her by head coach James Wade.
“I think for me, Coach said it best: focus on your defense and your offense will come. I can score the ball, I know I can do that, but when I focus on other things: not turning the ball over and getting us in a set, (scoring) just come(s) naturally. With confidence, I know I can shoot, so it is just something I have to get over in my head a little bit. So just doing what I’ve been doing and my teammates trust me and they have the confidence to pass it to me in those moments, so that speaks volumes.”
The Sky (5-3) will play the Los Angeles Sparks (3-3) on the road on Friday at 10 p.m. ET.