Triumph over Fever sends Sky to WNBA finals

Sky at Fever

Sky coach Pokey Chatman and Sylvia Fowles celebrate after advancing to the WNBA finals. (Ron Hoskins, NBAEGetty Images / September 3, 2014)

INDIANAPOLIS — Sylvia Fowles held down the loosened cork on a champagne bottle, delaying the inevitable shower of bubbly to talk for minute.

She didn't mind the wait.

"This has been a long time coming," she said.

For the first season in Fowles' seven with the team, for the first time in the franchise's nine-year history, the Sky won a playoff series. Then they won another, beating Indiana 75-62 in Wednesday's decisive Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Now the Sky open the best-of-five WNBA finals Sunday in Phoenix against the heavily favored Mercury.

And all this came in a season when it was least expected, one when injuries, illness and personal issues left the Sky staggering into the final East playoff spot with a 15-19 record.

A year ago, they had won the East with a 24-10 record but the Fever swept them in an opening-round rout. This year, the Sky lost Game 1 but came back to beat the Fever twice in a row for the first time in the teams' 42 meetings.

"On paper, we knew this was what we could accomplish," Allie Quigley said. "In the last couple of series, we found a way to click together."

Quigley came off the bench to deliver in the fashion that had won her the WNBA sixth woman award this season, scoring 24 points in 26 minutes of playing time. When she hit her fourth 3-pointer late in the game, teammate Courtney Vandersloot saluted her with a triumphant fist in the air.

"She killed us," Fever guard Shavonte Zellous said of Quigley.

Fowles, who had 27 points in Game 2, came up big again when the Fever challenged early in the fourth quarter, cutting a 10-point Sky lead in half.

"We had a good lead but you didn't want to give Indiana no momentum, so I tried to take it in my own hands," Fowles said.

In a 73-second span, Fowles hit a short jumper, grabbed a rebound, turned a layup into a three-point play and blocked a shot to put the Sky back up by 10. The Fever never got closer than nine after that, and Fowles finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.

"When she plays like that we are unstoppable, and she's the best in the world," Quigley said.

Challenging shooters inside and outside, Fowles also played a huge role in a relentless Sky defense that reduced Indiana's attack to confused ineffectiveness. Tamera Young stifled Fever star Tamika Catchings once again, partly by denying her the lane, and Catchings shot 11-for-43 in the series.

The Sky won with almost no contribution from Elena Delle Donne, whose bad back limited her to 21 minutes, none in the fourth quarter, with four points and no rebounds.

"We played huge team defense, and that was the game," Quigley said, just before the champagne spray hit.

phersh@tribune.com

Twitter @olyphil

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