ATLANTA -- What started out as a night for forward Elena Delle Donne to forget turned out to be one she will always want to remember.
The second-year player from Delaware scored only two points in the first quarter, but she wound up with a career-high 34 and hit a series-clinching shot.
Delle Donne's running basket with 8.2 seconds left enabled the Chicago Sky to complete a 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback and beat the Atlanta Dream 81-80 Tuesday at Philips Arena. The Sky won the best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinal series two games to one.
"We put the ball in her hands, and she made the plays," coach Pokey Chatman said.
The Sky will open the conference finals against Indiana on Saturday at 6 p.m. in Indianapolis.
Game two of the best-of-three series will be Monday at 3 p.m. at Allstate Arena, with game three (if necessary) Wednesday at 6 in Indianapolis.
The Fever swept two games against the Washington Mystics in the other semifinal series.
Delle Donne posted a game-high point total on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor and 11-for-11 for the line. The 10 field goals matched her career high.
"In the fourth quarter, they put the ball in my hands. The team trusted me," Delle Donne said.
Atlanta coach Michael Cooper said, "We had them on the ropes for three-quarters of the game, but sometimes a great player can will you to win."
Dream forward Angel McCoughtry's attempt at a game-winning jumper from the right side bounced on the rim several times before falling away as the horn sounded.
McCoughtry wasn't the same player who scored 39 points in the second game of the series in Chicago. She shot 5-for-18 from the field and scored 17 points. McCoughtry made one of eight shots in the fourth quarter.
"We kept reminding them of the defensive scheme we were trying to implement," Chatman said. "We were trying to make Angel pass and not let her beat us."
Forward Tamera Young, who did an excellent defensive job on McCoughtry, scored 16 points and handed out five assists. Center Sylvia Fowles had 13 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Atlanta was led by center Erika de Souza with 18 points. Dream forward Sancho Lyttle tallied 14 points and 13 rebounds, and guard Tiffany Hayes scored 14.
"We just got away from what we were doing so well," Cooper said. "We took some quick shots and bad shots and let it kind of get away from us."
The Dream led 72-55 before the Sky scored seven straight points, including a three-point play from Delle Donne, to cut the margin to 10 points with 7:02 remaining.
The Sky continued to attack and take advantage of Atlanta's poor shooting and passing. The Sky tacked on six straight to complete a 14-2 run and trim the deficit to 74-69 with 4:27 left.
"I think we were playing to win," Lyttle said. "We just stopped executing, and all of a sudden it was a one-point lead and we wondered, 'How did that happen?'"
The Sky completed the 19-2 run and tied it at 74-74 after Delle Donne hit two free throws and drained a 3-pointer with 3:21 remaining.
"It was a resilient effort by my team," Chatman said. "They stayed the course, and when it got late, my star player stepped up."
Atlanta shot the ball well in the first quarter. The Dream were 7-for-12 from the field, and they held a 23-15 lead when the Sky called timeout with 3:22 left in the period.
The stoppage did little to stop Atlanta's momentum. The Dream outscored the Sky 7-2 the rest of the period and led 30-17 after one quarter, with Lyttle scoring 10.
Atlanta kept pouring it on in the second quarter and led by as many as 20 when de Souza drove to the basket to give Atlanta a 44-24 lead with 5:46 left. The Dream did cool off; they were shooting 63.6 percent with 6:22 left and wound up at 54.5 percent at halftime, but they still led 54-41 at the break.
It might have been worse had it not been for Delle Donne's 13 second-quarter points. She drilled a 3-pointer that cut lead to 52-41 just before halftime.
Both offenses cooled off in the third quarter. Atlanta stretched its lead back to 19 by scoring the first three buckets of the half. The Sky were able to chip away and pull within 67-51 at the end of the quarter.
NOTES: Chicago F DeLisha Milton-Jones missed the game due to an injured right Achilles. ... Atlanta F Jessica Breland did not play because of a sore shoulder. ... Dream F Angel McCoughtry was assessed a technical foul with 3:20 left in the half. ... The game was only the second loss of the season for Atlanta when it scored 80 or more points.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun