Sky Makes Statement

For the first time this season, the Chicago Sky got an up close and personal look at the 2011 WNBA champions Minnesota Lynx. While the Lynx’s offensive arsenal was on full display at the Sky’s home turf at AllState Arena, Chicago stepped up to the challenge and turned in a performance as good as any in the young franchise’s history.

Chicago’s All-Star rookie Elena Delle Donne showed no signs of rookie jitters as she nailed the biggest shot of her fledgling career ¯ a deep 3-pointer from the right elbow to tie the game with 4.5 seconds remaining and send it into overtime. Chicago would go on to outscore Minnesota, 15-7, in the extra period and escape with a 94-86 victory.

“No big deal at all,” Delle Donne said, smiling about her game-tying shot. “This feels incredible. I think this would definitely be the biggest [shot of her career] so far.”

The matchup between the top teams of the Eastern and Western conferences has been circled on most fans’ calendars since the Sky overtook Atlanta for the conference lead in mid-July. It certainly wasn’t lacking in talent, as a total of seven All-Stars between the two teams took the floor in front of nearly 6,300 in attendance.

Chicago’s inside tandem of Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles combined for 11 of Chicago’s 15 points in overtime and dominated the paint. Delle Donne led all scorers with 32 points and Fowles poured in 31 more for the Sky, which improved to 15-7 and increased its conference-leading lead over Atlanta by 2.5 games after the Dream lost to Indiana.

Delle Donne also pulled down six rebounds and blocked four shots to lead the Sky’s suddenly vaunted defense, which holds opponents to a league-low 39 percent shooting. Delle Donne recorded her 39th block in the game, surpassing Fowles’ previous record of 36 for most blocks by a Sky rookie. In the process, Chicago coach Pokey Chatman became the team’s winningest coach.

Fowles, who leads the league with nearly 12 rebounds per game, pulled down a team-high nine boards, just missing a double-double.

The Sky’s starting five scored all of Chicago’s 94 points. Courtney Vandersloot scored 13 points with nine assists, Epiphanny Prince had 10 points and six dimes, and Swin Cash added eight points and seven boards.

All-Star Seimone Augustus led the Lynx with 26 points and six assists. WNBA MVP candidate Maya Moore also added 19 points for Minnesota, which shot 32-of-74 from the field, including a seemingly endless barrage from the perimeter. The Lynx lost its second straight and fell to 17-5, though they’ve won 10 of their past 12 games.

Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson got off to a hot start, scoring seven of her 14 points in the first quarter. After Minnesota took the first punch to lead the opening quarter, 17-12, on 53 percent shooting, the Sky knew it would be defense that carried the day. Chicago held Minnesota to just 35.7-percent shooting in the second half.

“I love that we were hard-nosed and winging it on defense more than anything,” Delle Donne said. “We were able to grit it out and we haven’t done that this season.”

The Sky got off to a rough start, shooting 3-of-15, but they outscored Minnesota, 28-24, in the second period to get within 41-40 at the half.

“They read things really well,” Delle Donne said of Minnesota’s defense. “They jump in the passing lanes and take you out of your offense.”

In the third quarter, Minnesota looked as if it would pull away from the Sky, ratcheting up the lead by 12 after Moore went on a personal 7-0 run. The Lynx took advantage of many second-chance opportunities and even out-rebounded the Sky, 34-32. Chicago usually out-rebounds its opponents by a league-leading margin of 4.9 boards per game.

Another of Minnesota’s four All-Stars, Lindsay Whalen, flirted with a trouble-double of 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Her pair of free-throws put the Lynx on top, 79-76, setting up Delle Donne’s game-tying trey.

The stakes rose and the pace quickened in the fourth quarter as both team’s traded leads throughout. Neither team refused to give in, as both remained calm under pressure. The Sky hit a remarkable 31 of their 33 free throws while the Lynx were perfect from the line in all 17 of their attempts.

After this instant classic, fans ¯ and national TV execs ¯ will likely have the date Sept. 14 circled next. That’s the day the Sky visit Minnesota for the final game of the regular season.

“It’s definitely a statement game for us,” Delle Donne said. “This is a huge win and we’re able to see where we stand right now in the season.”