The Sports Xchange

By Paul D. Bowker, The Sports Xchange

Fever 77, Sky 70

INDIANAPOLIS -- A near-record game by Indiana guard Briann January on Saturday night helped push the Fever to within one win of their third WNBA Finals berth in six years.

January, whose career high is 23 points, scored 11 of her team-high 19 points in the first quarter and the Fever defeated the Chicago Sky 77-70 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the opener of their best-of-three Eastern Conference finals.

When January cooled off, her backcourt teammate took over. Guard Shavonte Zellous scored six of her 18 points in the fourth quarter when the Sky battled back from a 14-point deficit and cut the margin to just one point.

A 3-pointer by Zellous in the final two-minutes put the Fever in front, 69-63.

Center Sylvia Fowles led Chicago with a game-high 20 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Forward Elena Delle Donne and guard Allie Quigley added 14 points.

Game 2 will be played Monday at Allstate Arena in Chicago. If a deciding third game is necessary, it would be played Wednesday in Indianapolis.

The Fever, who won their first WNBA championship in 2012, are chasing after another title in the last season for head coach Lin Dunn.

Ahead 42-33 at halftime and 60-48 after three quarters, the Fever were on their way to an easy victory. But the Sky would have none of it. Chicago outscored Indiana 14-3 to begin the final quarter, cutting the lead to one. Zellous stepped up with a 3-pointer to increase the margin to four points and the Sky never got closer than three points after that.

January scored seven of Indiana's first eight points and led all players with 11 points on 3 of 5 from the field in the first quarter. She scored 10 points in the first six minutes.

The Fever opened a nine-point lead at 38-29 on January's only 3-pointer of the second quarter.

Delle Donne hit her only baskets of the second quarter in the final two minutes but was unable to cut into the Fever's lead. A basket by Indiana forward Tamika Catchings put the Fever in front 42-33 to end the first half.

The Sky did not hit a 3-pointer in the opening half and the Fever made five.

NOTES: Indiana's Linn Dunn is the only coach in the WNBA to lead her team to the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons. Her 22 career playoff wins entering Saturday were the most of any female coach in WNBA history and rank No. 3 overall. ... The series shifts Monday to Chicago, where the Sky won two of three regular-season games against the Fever. ... The Sky is in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. ... Sky F Elena Delle Donne is averaging 25.7 points per playoff game. She scored a career-high 34 points in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Atlanta.

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