Phoenix Mercury And Chicago Sky Meet In WNBA Finals
LYNN NEARY, HOST:
Before the sports calendar turns to all football all the time, there's still some basketball business to wrap up. Today, the Phoenix Mercury host the Chicago Sky in game one of the WNBA finals. Phoenix was expected to play for the title after losing only 5 of its 34 games in the regular season. To call Chicago a surprise finalist is an understatement considering what the team's been through. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Any basketball season has its challenges, but you ask Chicago head coach Pokey Chatman how challenging this season's been, and here's her answer.
COACH POKEY CHATMAN: (Laughter).
GOLDMAN: Laughing probably is better than crying. And Chatman had every reason to weep in frustration. As the season unfolded, Chicago's basketball team became a WNBA mash unit. Players were lost to injury, surgery, fatigue, sickness. All-Star and reigning defensive player of the year Sylvia Fowles missed the first 13 games. Epiphanny Prince, another All-Star, missed the first seven. Starting point guard Courtney Vandersloot missed 15 games. Had enough Chicago? Too bad. There was more. Last year's rookie of the year Elena Delle Donne missed half the season when the lime disease she says she contracted in 2008 flared up with symptoms like muscle aches and tremors. Again, here's Coach Pokey Chatman.
CHATMAN: You know, we got to the point at one time where we had so many people injured, we could hardly practice. We were down to eight. I remember walking into practice saying we're down to the iron eight.
GOLDMAN: Out of the iron eight some surprises, players who, in Chatman's words, stepped outside of themselves and kept Chicago in contention, all of them buoyed by their head coach.
CHATMAN: I told them that we trusted them. We believed in them. We chose them for a reason. So it was just a real intense time of communicating honestly with each other and just working through the problems.
(SOUNDBITE OF 2014 WNBA PLAYOFFS)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Elena drives it, hangs, hits. Chicago leads. Time out Atlanta. Elena Della Donne with a virtuoso performance in the fourth quarter.
GOLDMAN: Chicago's emblematic victory of the year came in the playoff clincher over Atlanta. Down 17 with under 8 minutes left in the game, the Sky came back thanks to Della Donne's 17 fourth quarter points.
But now Chicago faces the mother of all challenges. Phoenix rolled through the regular season. Second-your star center Brittney Griner was a force setting an all-time record for blocked shots. And veteran guard Diana Taurasi still plays in rarefied air. Chatman says Taurasi's basketball IQ rivals the best in the game, man or woman. To beat the favored Mercury, Chatman says her team will have to slow them down and count on 6 foot 6 inches center Sylvia Fowles to be able to handle the 6 foot 8' inches Griner without needing too much double-team help. A very tall order, but it's probably best, at this point, not to totally count out the Chicago Sky. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.