Sky Clinch Playoffs

Tonight the Chicago Sky captured the first playoff berth in the history of the eight-year-old franchise as they completed a regular season sweep on the New York Liberty, winning 82-64 in front of nearly 6,000 adorned in pink for Breast Health Awareness night.

“There’s definitely an extra edge tonight,” Elena Delle Donne said at halftime. Even the rookie, in her first experience vying for a professional playoff spot, knew the gravity of tonight’s game and how uplifting a win could be.

It was this time last season, in late August with the playoff picture beginning to form, when the same New York Liberty cancelled any plans Chicago had of making a low-seed playoff appearance. The Sky finished the season 14-20 while the Liberty went on to lose to Connecticut in the Eastern conference semifinals.

Fast forward a year later. The Sky are the first-place team in the East. Big Sylvia Fowles and scoring sensation Epiphanny Prince are restored to full health. Floor general Courtney Vandersloot is playing with more confidence and offensive production than ever.

And this year, they have Elena Delle Donne.

With that formula working tonight, the Sky had the advantage. An electric third quarter where the Sky outscored the Liberty by 17 points negated an up-and-down first half that went back-and-forth and stayed tight. Strong statements from Fowles and Delle Donne widened the Sky’s margin to double-digits and sent the crowd at Allstate into a thundering frenzy.

Finding Fowles in the lane was the key ingredient for the Sky tonight, taking the Liberty’s focus off of Delle Donne and allowing her to penetrate the lane. And with Delle Donne (11 points, three rebounds) and Fowles (14 points, seven rebounds) in an offensive groove, the Sky extended their lead to double digits.

“It’s been a long, long time, but you guys made it worth it.” Fowles told the fans at the end of the game. “We started from the bottom, and now we’re here.”

Swin Cash, the Sky’s most experienced veteran, made her presence known tonight on the defensive end and got the game going with a three-point basket from the corner. Cash finished with 11 points and five boards. Epiphanny Prince, who was 1-for-4 in the first half and finished with eight points, nailed an important three-point shot to make the score 53-37 in that pivotal third quarter.

And when the offense wasn’t going quite as smoothly as they’d like early, the defense stepped up. Extra pressure on the Liberty caused 19 turnovers and created nine total steals for the Sky. Courtney Vandersloot had a couple key steals herself, including a pick-pocket on a backdoor cut that led to a fast break layup for Shay Murphy. Vandersloot, coming off a season-high 19 points against Washington on Tuesday, continued her aggressive play on the offensive end as well (10 points and seven assists).

Even better about tonight’s momentous win was that every player dressed for the Sky made a contribution: Tamera Young (eight points), Michelle Campbell (five points, seven boards), Murphy (five points), Avery Warley (six points, three blocked shots, seven boards) and Allie Quigley (four points).

“It’s not about clinch, it’s about clutch,” Pokey Chatman said before the game.

Tonight, it’s about history.

The Sky hit the road to take on the Atlanta Dream in an Eastern Conference showdown on Saturday. Game is scheduled to air on ESPN2 at 6:00 p.m. CST.