Sky rookie Delle Donne delivers in clutch
With his hands covering his eyes, Ernie Delle Donne couldn't bear to look.
His daughter Elena, the Chicago Sky's superstar rookie, was at the free-throw line Sunday night at Allstate Arena in a tie game against the San Antonio Silver Stars. She had 2 attempts with 1.8 seconds left.
Ernie was in agony in his courtside seat.
"I've been nervous like that since she was 7 years old shooting foul shots," Ernie Delle Donne said with a laugh. "When she was 12 years old, she made 2 free throws with a tenth of a second left in the AAU nationals and I don't think I've relaxed since.
"She's a lot more relaxed about her free throws than I am."
Luckily for the Sky, Elena Delle Donne seems more relaxed about her free throws, even clutch free throws, than most seasoned WNBA players.
She calmly, coolly and matter-of-factly dropped in both free throws to push the Sky to a 72-70 victory over the same Silver Stars who handed the Sky its first loss Friday in San Antonio.
Delle Donne finished with a career-high 23 points, including two 3-pointers as the Sky improved to 4-1 on the season. The 6-foot-5 forward says that standing at the line as a pro with the game on the line is a scenario that was years in the making.
"Being in the backyard, you make up scenarios and, of course, that would be a scenario, being a pro, being on the line and having to knock down shots to win the game," said Delle Donne, who acknowledged that the first game-winning free throws of her WNBA career will always hold a special place in her heart. "This is something I practiced a lot growing up and was able to execute it now."
Delle Donne's form is textbook. To hold the ball, she props her hand back flat as if she's a waitress carrying a platter. She releases the ball high, from near her temple and finishes with a pretty follow through. The look never varies, even a bit. It's a style her dad taught her in eighth grade.
"There are very few moving parts to her free-throw shot," Ernie Delle Donne said. "It's almost like in golf. Your best putters have very little movement with their hands and wrists. It's all shoulder and arm movement and that's her foul shot. It's always the same. And that's actually the basis for how we taught her how to shoot her jump shot.
"Her 3-point shot is that same shot, a foul shot (with a jump)."
Speaking of 3-pointers, San Antonio guard Jia Perkins, who spent five years with the Sky from 2006 to 2010, hit a dagger of a 3-pointer to tie the game with 4.3 seconds remaining.
That completed a determined rally for the Silver Stars, who were down by as many as 12 points in the second half.
Perkins finished with a team-high 20 points for San Antonio, which dropped to 2-2.
The Sky, which also got 15 points and 16 rebounds from center Sylvia Fowles and a dozen points and 5 assists from point guard Courtney Vandersloot, is still trying to adjust to life without leading scorer Epiphanny Prince, who is in Russia fulfilling a contractual obligation to the national team there. She is also recovering from an ankle sprain.
"With Piph gone, we change the way we play a little bit and now you have to recognize how the defense is adjusting to that," Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. "Probably everyone and their brother knew that we were going to Elena on that last possession and she still got it. The thing for me is how she's reading those defenses.
"She has a unique skills set for someone her size at 6-foot-5 and she has a lot of poise."
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