- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- After Monday's double-overtime win in Chicago, point guard Courtney Vandersloot was asked why the Sky seem to respond best when they are down on the mat.
"We would all love to be the team that pushes out to a lead," Vandersloot said as coach Pokey Chatman sat next to her and laughed out loud. "We just know we've come back before, and that's what keeps us grounded."
Except now the Sky won't be grounded at all. Rather, they're boarding a flight to Phoenix to open the WNBA Finals against the favored Mercury after a defining 75-62 victory over Indiana on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
There were champagne and smiles in the Sky locker room after they punched their first ticket to the championship series. The franchise that was eliminated from the postseason by a tie-breaker in 2009, fell one game short of the playoffs in 2012 and made its first trip in 2013 is headed to the WNBA Finals in 2014.
"It's a great feeling," said Sky guard Tamera Young, who has been with the team for six seasons. "You work so hard for something, and you finally get it. It's a sigh of relief."
The biggest sigh might have come from Sylvia Fowles, who was drafted by the Sky as the No. 2 overall pick in 2008. She has been in the front row of the roller coaster.
"I never lost sight," Fowles said. "And a lot of that comes from being on this team, seeing whatever they bring every day and sticking together in tough times."
Chicago, the Eastern Conference's No. 4 seed, hasn't looked much like a championship contender this season. After a fast start, the Sky sunk to last place in the division after Elena Delle Donne left the team to deal with a recurrence of Lyme disease. Chicago also spent significant chunks of time without Fowles and Vandersloot.
Even the postseason has been an uphill battle. Chicago trailed by double digits three times in this postseason but came back to win each time.
But the comeback wasn't needed Wednesday. The Sky made the short trip to Indiana and set the tone. Chicago was the aggressor, the leader nearly from start to finish, except when the Fever took a narrow lead twice in the first half.
The Sky spread out their offensive load, hit big shots at crucial times and defended something fierce. Meanwhile, Indiana shot 34.4 percent for the game and just 2-of-14 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Despite being outrebounded 35-23, the Sky basically pinned down the Fever offense and would not let it get up, and they handed Indiana just its second loss in elimination games at home in franchise history.
They did it without much help from the ailing Delle Donne (back) in the second half. Delle Donne, who finished with four points and no rebounds, played just 3:17 in the third quarter and never came in during the fourth, as Chicago held its lead and made due without her.
Allie Quigley compensated for Delle Donne's absence on the floor. Quigley, the journeywoman who came home to play in Chicago, had a remarkable game. She finished with 24 points in less than 26 minutes on the floor and hit seven of her nine shots, including four 3-pointers.
"I'm like a proud mama, never mind ... big sister. I don't want to be that old," Chatman said. "She had ice water in her veins."
Delle Donne said she told Chatman to play her as little as possible. She said she is hoping rest and "a little magic on this back" will get her ready for Sunday's Game 1 in Phoenix (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
"It was terrible not being out there, but I'm proud of this team," Delle Donne said.
Fowles, who was so dominant on the offensive end in Game 2, was a little less so on Wednesday. She finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, but she had an immeasurable impact on altering shots and Indiana's offensive intentions.
"We knew she was going to garner a lot of attention," Chatman said of Fowles. "But even when we didn't get her the basketball, she's just a tough guard. We were able to play off of her, to her and through her, and she's a big part of the reason we are sitting here right now."
In her last game as the Fever head coach, Lin Dunn said she watched a team that seemed mentally and physically spent from Monday's double-overtime loss.
Dunn, who is retiring after 44 years on the sideline, said the red flags went up almost immediately, when the Fever turned over the ball four times in their first six possessions.
Shavonte Zellous was the only Fever player in double figures, with 16 points. Tamika Catchings finished with nine points on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor.
"Give credit to Chicago," Zellous said. "They came to play. We didn't."
Indiana couldn't get closer than five points after the early minutes of the fourth quarter.
"Everything for us seemed to be a struggle," Dunn said. "But give Chicago credit. They played with a sense of urgency and intensity that we had in 2009, when we had never been to the Finals. I could sense that in them."
Dunn quickly left the court after the game but then got emotional when she talked about saying goodbye to her team in the locker room after the game.
As she left the media room and ran into Chatman and Fowles, Dunn hugged Fowles and said, "Go bring home that trophy."