CHICAGO -- The MVP award cast a shadow on Elena Delle Donne as she made her postgame remarks Thursday night, but it did nothing to obstruct her view.
The subject was her 5-for-15 shooting, 11 rebounds and 14 points in the Chicago Sky's 77-72 victory over the Indiana Fever in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But while conventional wisdom might characterize her game as subpar, from Delle Donne's view it revealed only the obvious.
"Clearly this team is why I won the MVP," Delle Donne said. "It showed out there tonight and it's going to continue to show in these playoffs."
In a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference finals, the Sky did not take their final lead of the game until 2 minutes, 15 seconds remained in regulation. And it was behind the combined energy of Allie Quigley, the WNBA's Sixth Woman of the Year award winner, and Courtney Vandersloot that the Sky were able to outlast the Fever for the critical 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
"One thing about Chicago is that you have to give two players to Delle Donne and then you have Sloot and Quigley running wild," Fever coach Stephanie White said of the backcourt duo. "You have to pick your poison and if you give points for assists, Sloot and Quigley had 61 tonight. They just kicked our ass."
In real life, Quigley finished with a team-high 20 points that included 3-of-4 3-pointers off the bench and six assists, while Vandersloot finished with 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting and five assists.
It was a performance the Sky needed with Cappie Pondexter still shaky (0-for-7 shooting in 19 minutes) in her first game back since sustaining a concussion against Atlanta on Aug. 29.
"Sloot and Quigley came at us and held the team down," Indiana's Tamika Catchings said. "We didn't have an answer for them."
For Quigley, who picked up her second consecutive sixth woman award, it seems like a long time since 2013, when she arrived back in her hometown with the Sky and fresh off her fifth team in five years.
"I still believed in myself, and when you believe, anything is possible," said the 29-year-old former DePaul star.
The Sky, who lost in the 2014 WNBA Finals to Phoenix, swept the Fever 4-0 in their regular-season series and seemed to pick up where they left off, building a nine-point lead at the end of the first quarter. But the Fever clamped down on defense with a 20-12 second-quarter, taking a one-point lead into halftime.
White lamented the Sky's 22 second-chance points to just four for the Fever (13-0 in the second half). Indiana also managed just 4 of 15 from 3-point range in the second half. Sky coach Pokey Chatman credited her team with dictating pace in the second half behind Vandersloot and Quigley while Indiana characteristically clamped down on Delle Donne.
"Huge," Chatman said of the duo's contribution. "Elena and the rest of the team have seen that movie [with double teams on Delle Donne] and they know not to panic."
Vandersloot, the league leader in assists this season with 5.9 per game, called Quigley "a point guard's dream."
"She creates her own shots," Vandersloot said. "You just have to give her the ball on time. She knows when she wants it and when she needs it."
But it was Vandersloot who was the recipient of an alley-oop pass by Quigley in the first quarter that she converted with a neatly done scoop shot under the basket.
"[I'm] just making reads and luckily she was able to make an amazing shot," Quigley said. "You just have to be aggressive and let everything you've been practicing and all your preparation take over. So I credit her."
The two combined for 12 points in the fourth quarter, with Quigley connecting on three of five shots.
"There are [times] when Allie knocks it down and I run back smiling because it's absolutely amazing," Delle Donne said. "I feel like her release is so fast, she barely even has the ball in her hands and it's gone.
"It's definitely a time when I become a fan and have a big smile on my face. What a pressure release Allie is."
Quigley earned 24 of 39 votes for sixth woman after a season in which she averaged 11.1 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists along with 34 percent shooting from-point range.
"The [sixth woman] role is not for everybody, but Allie has accepted it and she is the best at it," Vandersloot said. "It's huge having someone come off the bench and be so dominant. I don't know anyone else who has someone like her."
No one has a Delle Donne, either, which makes it all the scarier anticipating her response Saturday in Game 2 to Thursday night's opener.
"Elena is going to do what she does. One game doesn't define her," Catchings said. "It's tough to get the MVP trophy. I've been there, done that, and all the stuff behind the scenes makes you tired. But you better believe we'll be ready for her [in Game 2] because she's going to be a different Elena Delle Donne [on] Saturday."
Either way, Delle Donne knows she'll have support.