Fever ruin Sky's playoff debut

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- It was a tough night for the Chicago Sky. All this time waiting for a playoff appearance, and the Indiana Fever turned it into a disappearance.

Where was the Sky team that finished first in the Eastern Conference and had the league's rookie of the year (Elena Delle Donne) and defensive player of the year (Sylvia Fowles) honored before Friday's game?

Technically, the Sky were present. I know; I saw them with my own eyes at Allstate Arena. But they sure didn't look like the group that won nine of their last 11 regular-season games. The defending champions saw to that.

Indiana defeated Chicago 85-72 in Game 1 of their East semifinal, and just like that the Sky are on the verge of their first postseason in franchise history being over soon after it started. The best-of-three series goes to Indiana on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and WatchESPN). And if the Sky have any hope of playing another home game this season, they must figure out how to deal with all the things about the Fever that vexed them Friday.

And, in fact, that has been the case for more than just Friday. The Fever have now taken four straight against the Sky, after Chicago won the first game of their regular-season series in June.

"We have some things we're going to have to clean up, obviously," said Chicago coach Pokey Chatman, who surely wishes she could take a giant eraser to this disappointing game.

Meanwhile, you wonder if the Fever felt rather left out of the postseason chatter this year, even though they are the reigning WNBA champions?

"Definitely a feeling of being kind of ignored," Fever veteran Tamika Catchings said of the team's mindset. "We talked about it, and all the adversity with injuries we've faced. I think it's a tribute to the team that we've dealt with it like we have."

Which has been stiff-upper-lip style. After activating veteran Katie Douglas at the end of the regular season, the Fever had to play without her Friday night because she was experiencing back pain.

But just like they did in their victory over Minnesota in the WNBA Finals last year -- when Douglas was out with an ankle injury -- Indiana got contributions from everybody and rolled right along.

"We've already learned we are going to focus on who we have," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "Not who we don't have."

Despite an offensive weapon like Douglas being out, the Fever had an exceptionally good shooting night. Indiana played its trademark strong defense, but also got an offensive performance that Dunn wasn't quite expecting. The Fever shot 50.8 percent from the field and 62.5 from 3-point range (10-of-16).

"There have been lots of games where we've had to win shooting low 40s, 30s," Dunn said of the Fever, who as a team shot 39.3 percent from the field in the regular season. "We knocked down our open shots [Friday] and really battled on the boards. We're glad to come in here -- a little short-handed -- and steal this game."

It didn't seem like robbery, though. It was more like the Fever taking back what they probably felt was rightfully theirs all along: the favorite's role in the East.

Admittedly, the Fever have been a walking-wounded unit, and at 16-18 were the only team with a losing record to make the WNBA playoffs this season. But all along, the Indiana players have had confidence that if they could just get marginally healthy and qualify for the postseason, it would be a whole new ballgame.

Which it is now. Like Washington and Phoenix on Thursday, the Fever won their playoff opener on the road. Douglas is day-to-day, her status uncertain for Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

What is certain, though, is that Indy had that "everybody pitched in" feeling after Friday's game. All five starters scored in double figures, led by Shavonte Zellous with 20 points.

Karima Christmas, who has more of a reputation as a defensive player, had 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists in one of the best overall games of her young career.

Dunn traded for Christmas midway through last season, thinking the Duke graduate was a very good fit for the Fever's system. Friday, Dunn was very pleased with how Christmas helped contain Delle Donne, who still had a team-high 20 points, but only four after halftime.

Fowles had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Chicago, and Epiphanny Prince scored 19. But the Sky were outrebounded 32-21, and there really wasn't any part of the game that the Fever didn't ultimately control.

Chatman said her team has responded well all season after disappointing games, but -- as she put it -- the margin for error in that regard now is extremely slim. The Sky have a lot to fix, and they'll have to do it on the road.

Meanwhile, Catchings understands why the Fever kind of fell off people's radar, and still stayed that way even after making the postseason. It's because the Fever lost seven games in a row after winning their opener this summer.

But on Friday, the Fever looked a lot more like the team that won the title in 2012 than the one that was below .500 to end this regular season.

"We learned last year to keep our poise and composure, Dunn said. "But we have to be prepared for their best shot on Sunday."

Actually, the Sky better hope they really can summon their "best shot." It will have to look a whole lot different than Friday.