As the Sky enter the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Fever, Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles are being rewarded after facing different challenges.
Before this season, Delle Donne’s WNBA path had been smooth. She was the 2013 rookie of the year and was anointed as one of the faces of the league. But she missed 17 games this season after a flare-up of Lyme disease symptoms and will have to fight through any fatigue for the rest of the year.
She made sure it was worth it Tuesday, scoring 34 points to lead the Sky past the Atlanta Dream and into their first conference finals, which start Saturday in Indianapolis.
“I didn’t go home and go through five hours with a doctor every single day to just be beaten like that in Atlanta,” Delle Donne said. “That was definitely something going through my mind, and I’m sure the rest of the girls were thinking about what they had to go through to get to that point.”
Fowles has become one of the best centers in the world while winning two Olympic gold medals. But her international success didn’t translate to the WNBA as the Sky missed the playoffs in her first five seasons.
Now on the brink of the Finals, Fowles can look back on those non-playoff seasons with a different perspective.
“Those last couple years here with the Sky have been crazy. I can say it’s definitely been a whirlwind,” Fowles said. “Those five seasons [of] losing and not making the playoffs have been so worth it in these past two years of making it to the playoffs. There’s no better feeling than to get there and just compete.”
Delle Donne, whose arrival last year brought the Sky to another level, is glad to see what has happened to Fowles’ career.
“I’m thrilled for Syl. She’s gone through the grind for so many years, and now she’s at the point where she deserves to be because she’s the best post player in the world,” Delle Donne said. “It’s awesome that she’s finally getting the attention she deserves and she’s playing great basketball for us.”
That will have to continue for the Sky to get past the Fever, who swept them out of the playoffs last season. But since then, the Sky have been forced to grow because of the challenges they’ve faced while never forgetting how 2013 ended.
“The good thing about it is that resonated in such a way that it stuck with them during the offseason,” coach Pokey Chatman said. “The good thing about it is this is a new team with a lot more experience, a lot more depth, a little bit battle-tested. Those key players are more experienced.”
That’s especially true of Fowles and Delle Donne.
NOTE: Forward Jessica Breland is day-to-day with an injured right shoulder suffered Tuesday in Atlanta.