Friday, the Chicago Sky got the franchise's first WNBA playoff victory. It took nine seasons to happen, and none of the Sky players have waited for this as long as Sylvia Fowles and Tamera Young have.
And on a night when Chicago had to do the same thing this team has done virtually all season -- overcome the loss of a player -- the two "senior" Sky players were critical factors.
The Sky, the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, upset top-seeded Atlanta 80-77. We almost had another upset in the West -- one that would have been enormous -- but the Phoenix Mercury held off the Los Angeles Sparks 75-72 in a game in which Diana Taurasi had to come up big (34 points) and late turnovers killed the Sparks.
Now the Sky have a chance to close out their East semifinal series at home Sunday (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 7 p.m. ET). And while one of the youngest Chicago players -- second-year star Elena Delle Donne -- led the team in scoring (21), the "old-timers" did their part, too.
The Sky debuted as a franchise in 2006, and Fowles was their top draft pick -- No. 2 overall -- in 2008. Meanwhile, Young was taken in that same draft six spots later by Atlanta, at No. 8.
Big Syl went to the Final Four all four seasons she was at LSU and was a high-profile college star. Young was a standout at James Madison and in the Colonial Athletic Association, but wasn't as well-known nationally. Midway through her second season in the WNBA, Young was traded to Chicago. Then Fowles and Young went through some frustrating years together. In 2009, '10, '11, and '12, the Sky weren't really a bad team, but they just couldn't get over the hump and make the playoffs.
That changed last season, when Delle Donne was WNBA Rookie of the Year and the Sky had the East's best record. However, they were swept by Indiana in the conference semifinals. More frustration.
The Sky's issues with injury and illness this year have been well-chronicled. And just when Chicago seemed as healthy as the team has been all season, forward Jessica Breland -- one of the most improved players in the league this year and a key cog for the Sky -- suffered a shoulder injury early in Friday's game and didn't return to action.
Of course, if any team is used to dealing with adversity, it's Chicago. An important player goes down? What else is new?
It meant Delle Donne had to log 33 minutes, the most she has played in a game since May. It also meant there also wasn't going to be much rest time for Fowles. Not that she was expecting any going against the Dream frontline of Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle. Fowles played 39 minutes and made the most of limited opportunities to shoot, going 4-of-5 from the field. Her 12 points were supplemented by a 14 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Young also had 12 points and as a defender did as much as she could to help make Dream star Angel McCoughtry's job hard Friday. McCoughtry had 24 points, but went 8-of-22 from the field. She was short on a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left that could have won the game.
Instead, Chicago guard Courtney Vandersloot, who also went through injury issues this season, hit the winning basket. Vandersloot finished with 13 points and Epiphanny Prince had 14.
For Fowles and Young, especially, this jubilation was a long time coming. Now they can go back home and try to get another first: The franchise's first playoff series win.