ROSEMONT, Ill. – The Fever’s balanced effort allowed Indiana to overcome a herculean performance from Elena Delle Donne and defeat the Chicago Sky, 100-89, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Allstate Arena. With the win, Indiana advances to the conference finals for the fifth straight season, where it will face either New York or Washington.
Tamika Catchings led five Fever players in double figures with 27 points to go along with nine rebounds and six assists. Shenise Johnson added 22 points, Erlana Larkins had 18 points and six boards, and Marissa Coleman chipped in 17 points. Briann January finished with 10 points and eight assists.
As a team, the Fever shot 57.8 percent from the field (a franchise postseason record), knocked down 10-of-20 3-pointers, and committed just six turnovers. They needed all that efficiency to combat a brilliant performance by Delle Donne, the 2015 WNBA MVP, who finished with 40 points on 15-of-21 shooting in the loss.
“Our veteran leadership really stepped up,” January said. “You saw our experience and everybody stepped up today.”
Delle Donne had averaged just 12.5 points on 33 percent shooting over the first two games of the series, but she had it going early on Monday. The 6-5 forward out of Delaware hit her first five shots, including three attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, en route to 14 points in the first quarter.
Still, the Fever’s balanced offensive attack kept the game close despite Delle Donne’s outburst. The two teams were tied at 28 after the first quarter and both offenses remained hot for most of the first half.
PHOTO GALLERY: Fever 100, Sky 89 >>
After 10 ties and 11 lead changes, Indiana surged in front near the end of the second quarter. The Fever led by as many as six points and took a 52-47 advantage into the locker room. The Fever shot 61.1 percent from the field in the half and committed just two turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
Johnson was especially sharp offensively, knocking down 7-of-11 shots for 15 points, already a playoff career high. Catchings added 13 points and five rebounds, while Coleman chipped in 11, going 3-for-3 from 3-point range.
Indiana stretched its lead to double digits after halftime, leading by as many as 13. Erlana Larkins came up big for the visitors down the stretch. Larkins, known more for her rebounding than her scoring, went to work in the paint after halftime, scoring 12 of her 18 points after the break.
“I just capitalized on my deep (post) position today,” Larkins said after the win. “My focus to finish around the basket was successful today.”
Still, the Sky had one last rally in them, cutting the deficit to six with 2:37 to play. After Catchings nailed two free throws on the other end, Allie Quigley drained a 3-pointer from the right corner to make it 87-82 with 2:06 to play.
Catchings answered again with a 3-pointer of her own before Courtney Vandersloot’s old-fashioned three-point play made it again a five-point game with 1:28 remaining.
Coleman then buried a trifecta from the right corner, which was effectively the nail in Chicago’s coffin.
For the Fever, it’s business as usual, as they’re back in the conference finals once again. But for Johnson, in her first year in Indiana, it’s a special moment. The fourth-year guard will play in her first conference finals later this week.
“I’m so excited to be a part of the team,” Johnson said. “Not just to be a part of the team, but just to be out there and actually make an impact.
“This means the world to me.”