Can Fowles lead Sky to Finals?

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's not hard to spot the epicenter of Wednesday's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

She's 6 feet, 6 inches, has incredibly long arms, runs and moves with remarkable agility and ease, and showed herself to be an unstoppable force Monday in Chicago.

With a back injury slowing Sky forward Elena Delle Donne, the outcome of the final game of this series likely rests with Sylvia Fowles, Chicago's veteran center.

If the Sky can get from "Big Syl" what they got on Monday -- a near flawless offensive game and shot-altering defense at the other end -- Chicago could very well be making its first trip to the league championship series.

But if the Fever can contain Fowles better than they did in Game 2, knock her around, move her out of the deepest regions of the paint and render her even slightly less effective, they stand a good chance to move on to their second trip to the WNBA Finals in the past three years.

"When Sylvia is healthy and when Sylvia is focused like she was [Monday], I don't know if there's a better player in the world," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said after Fowles torched the Fever for 27 points on 12-of-14 shooting and proved the difference in Chicago's season-saving 86-84 double-overtime win to force a deciding Game 3.

Fowles dominated on both ends of the floor, finishing with seven rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.

"She's had some great games this season, but she was different [Monday]," Chicago coach Pokey Chatman said. "She was so connected to the defensive schemes and the offense and so connected emotionally. She's the gentle giant and all of her teammates want to feed her."

Fowles' performance was one of the most important of her WNBA career, considering both its impact and timing. When she left the game with three fouls early, the Fever were able to build a lead. When she returned to the floor, the Sky recaptured the lead and held on through two overtimes to win. She scored 21 points after halftime. Her scoring total was a career playoff high.

"I was more in tune with my team, posting up harder, asking for the ball more," Fowles said. "It felt really good."

For the first time in a long time. Fowles missed 14 games to open the season after having arthroscopic surgery on her hip to repair a torn labrum and joint impingement. It was a surgery, Chatman said, that typically requires six months of rehab.

"She was back in three months and three days," Chatman said. "She was up at 5 a.m. and getting three rehabs in a day. That's who she is."

Fowles finished the regular season averaging 13.4 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. Good, but not eye-popping numbers, and the seventh-year pro admitted it wasn't easy reintegrating into the lineup after a long absence.

"It's tough, coming back, trying to fit in when the group has already established itself," Fowles said. "And it was an adjustment for them to play with me."

Fowles began to feel more comfortable when point guard Courtney Vandersloot and Delle Donne (Lyme disease) returned after long absences.

"I didn't really click until everybody was back and healthy on the floor," Fowles said.

Chatman said having Fowles on the floor opens up her playbook.

"The sexy part of basketball is scoring, we know that," Chatman said. "But she allows me to run five different schemes defensively, because she is such a mobile, big post. That part of her game doesn't get enough play.

"She is a tremendous defender, not just on her man, but as a secondary defender. She moves well, reads plays and alters shots. When she's dominant, she's powerful, strong and quick and that's a combination most players don't have."

The Sky rallied from last place in the East standings to reach the playoffs for the second straight season, then beat Atlanta in three games to win their first playoff series.

In the first round, Fowles picked up the rebounding pace, including 15 boards in the deciding Game 3 in Atlanta. But Fowles reached a different level in Monday afternoon's effort.

"I just wanted to bring whatever, scoring, rebounding, blocking shots, getting deflections," she said. "Whatever it takes."

Indiana might be feeling the same way about its defensive plan. Fever post Erlana Larkins and Fowles have battled plenty of times. Larkins' goal is to "frustrate" Fowles.

"We definitely want to make her uncomfortable early," Larkins said. "We need to make it hard for her, make it so that she just can't turn and shoot over the top of my head."

Fowles admits she can be easily frustrated and that it can impact her game.

"A lot of people get physical with me and I get upset," Fowles said. "I'm not upset by the physicality, but I just like things to be called fairly. That's where a whole lot of the frustration comes in. But at this point, I can't worry about what's going to be called. I have to play the way I'm capable of playing."

Chatman joked that if she took the punishment that's regularly inflicted on Fowles, "I think I might be convicted of assault. I couldn't take the beating she takes and stay in the game."

Chatman said that Fowles is, at her core, a "pleaser."

"She gets disappointed when she thinks she's disappointed somebody," Chatman said. "It's never that Syl is only giving 60 or 70 percent, it's when her effort is not met with positive results that it affects her. She literally does not want you to be disappointed in her, and we've tried to tell her that it's only disappointing when you let it affect you.

"The other thing is, I don't think she truly understands how special she is."

Fowles waited a long time to play her first WNBA playoff game. A year later, she is one game away from the WNBA Finals.

"I am so hungry to get to the Finals," Fowles said. "I've been through some things here in Chicago, but all of this is so worth it, to make it through all of those years, to have this moment."