Sky prevails in Delle Donne's return to action
Well, that's more like it.
Not only did the Chicago Sky finally get an important win, the team also got to rely on one of its most important players for the first time in what seemed like ... well, forever.
On Thursday at Allstate Arena, the Sky took down the New York Liberty, the team it is chasing for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, 87-74. Along the way, the Sky got some much-needed help from star forward Elena Delle Donne, who was playing in her first game in nearly two months due to an extended illness.
"I was anxious. I just wanted to be out there," Delle Donne said. "I was also anxious to see how I would feel. And I'm very happy that it felt good, and that it was the lungs more than anything. When (I got winded), I said (to head coach Pokey Chatman), 'It's the lungs, not the Lyme.' "
Delle Donne had missed 17 of the Sky's previous 26 games in order to treat her complicated and unpredictable flare-up of Lyme disease, a condition that she has been battling since her senior year in high school when she was bitten by an infected tick in her backyard. She returned home to Delaware to fight severe fatigue and flu-like symptoms as her doctors worked furiously to find a combination of medications that would get her back on track.
She returned to Chicago last week and was given permission by her doctors to test herself in a game.
"It was awesome. It was just amazing to be back with the team," said Delle Donne, who agonized as the Sky lost 10 of its previous 15 games in her absence. "Being out there on the floor, I was just enjoying every second of it."
In just 10 minutes of closely monitored action, Delle Donne, who normally plays about 30 minutes a game, scored 10 points and provided a much-needed defensive distraction for teammate Sylvia Fowles, the Sky's all-star center who happily saw fewer double teams on her way to 16 points and 14 rebounds.
"It's almost like you've got to pick your poison," Fowles said of the benefit of having Delle Donne on the floor with her. "Normally, they send two (defenders), maybe three at me. But when Elena's in the game, it's just always 1-on-1. Her just being out on the court makes it really good spacing for me."
The Sky, which is 11-16 and just a half-game behind New York (11-15) for fourth place, began to pull away in the fourth quarter when Fowles scored a series of three tough baskets in the paint. Former DePaul standout Allie Quigley (16 points) and Tamera Young (12 points) also provided some big baskets down the stretch.
Also in double figures for the Sky were Jamierra Faulkner (14 points) and Epiphanny Prince (11 points). Faulkner has taken over for injured point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who is nearing the six-week mark of the rehab of a knee injury that was supposed to keep her out 6-10 weeks.
Tina Charles and former Chicago Marshall star Cappie Pondexter led the Liberty with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
"I think (the Sky could be the most dangerous team in the East down the stretch)," Chatman said. "We've been tested in unimaginable ways. So what do they have to be afraid of? The adversity has been there, and that will become comforting as we move on.
"We just have to make sure we don't undo this win and keep taking care of business."