Unfortunately, I had to watch another conference finals game on DVR and was actually eager to see how on earth the Indiana Fever beat the Connecticut Sun in such dominant fashion after I heard that Katie Douglas left the game on a stretcher at some point.
The following are just my notes on what happened during the 87-71 win last night with more on the game and the Finals matchup to come later.
The Fever opened the game in very impressive fashion, moving the ball extremely well for open shots, getting to the basket and playing great defense to stifle the Sun's defense.
But I'm going to skip right to the moment of Katie Douglas' ankle injury with about 4:45 left in the first quarter. I heard about it while I was out last night and my first thought was how devastating that is not only for the team but for a player who has done so much to contribute to this team's effort to get to this point. The score was 12-4 at that point and the Fever proceeded to turn the ball over, give up a bucket, and then turn the ball over again in the next few possessions. It started to look like they were pressing in an effort overcome the set back.
Zellous' short jumper just in front of the free throw line with about 2:50 left looked like a bit of a relief for the team, not just mentally in regaining the composure they'd shown early but also in terms of relying on their execution rather than trying to play one-on-one ball with Douglas out.
Catchings hitting all these jumpers is like her making up for her poor outing in Game 1. Right now, the difference isn the game is that the Sun are simply not getting easy shots – there's a lot of contested, awkward or rushed shots – and the Fever seem to be getting shots that their players are comfortable with.
Zellous has been a solid player throughout her career, but she really seems to be coming into her own and looking more patient in this series. She's always had the quickness, but she's looking far less frantic and much more patient with the ball in her hands lately.
The Sun missing all of those second chance scoring opportunities was partially about their own struggles, but also at least in part about the Fever's defense – somehow after giving up all those offensive boards they managed to recover to contest each of the putbacks.
Second quarter: 18-10 Indiana
Early in the second quarter, Indiana's defensive intensity was outstanding. Some of it is the way their doubling Charles and forcing others to beat them but another part of it is crowding passing lanes.
To the previous point, it came as little surprise to me to see the Sun find some rhythm with Kara Lawson and Renee Montgomery in the game. For whatever you think of Montgomery as a point guard, her ability to break down defenses off the dribble is extremely helpful to this team when they're not moving the ball well and having Lawson in along with her gives her the chance to play off the ball. With Indiana cutting off passing lanes, it's a nice strategy for them.
Catchings forces a shot clock violation by locking up Lawson and then proceeds to hit a three on the other end. Ladies and gentlemen, your third place MVP candidate.
A couple of possessions later, with about 5:40 left, Cathcings bottled up Tina Charles in single coverage and got the defensive rebound. This could quickly turn into Catchings' congrats-on-your-MVP-award-but-I'd-prefer-a-title performance a la Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995.
With about 4:45 left, Catchings makes a no look swing pass to Jeanette Pohlen on the left wing.
Phillips hit a three from the left corner around the 4 minute mark in which she literally looked to throw the ball at the basket. Next possession, Zellous is left wide open on the other side of the court for a three and hits it. The commentators not that they are currently 6-for-6 from three.
After Jeanette Pohlen's three, Indiana is 7-for-7 form three. This is definitely partially about having someone in the game to defend more effectively, but for whatever reason the Sun as a unit are not responding well to ball reversals at all.
Catchings is doing everything in her power to struggle with January's inefficient ball handling and Douglas' absence.
Catchings during the halftime interview when asked about Douglas' injury: "You know, when one man steps down, somebody else has to step up." Had she followed that up with, "If not me, then who?" I wouldn't have blamed her. But instead she talked about the team. How can you possibly not root for this woman to win? That interview alone is enough to make me a Fever fan.
Cindy Brunson to Lindsay Whalen: "If you could argue Skip Bayless on any topic what would it be Lindsay?" Please ESPN, make this happen.
Third quarter: 43-24 Indiana
I'm not sure what Indiana saw in their previous game film, but they are crowding Tina Charles on every available opportunity and it's working – they forced a turnover on a pass after Larkins simply crowded her from the wing.
Did Catchings really just go right at Charles, miss the layup, and then get her own offensive rebound over Charles and Asjha Jones? Yes, she did. And then she took the ball back out to the right wing, did a few crossover dribbles, and proceeded to take the ball right back to the basket for a driving layup.
Is there a player who does more from everywhere on the court than Catchings right now? I don't know of one. Defending 1 through 5, driving against centers, driving from the perimeter, hitting threes, and then posting up smaller players and getting to the line.
Phillips with another three. And this game is getting completely out of hand. Fever up 54-30. This is the most surprising result of the playoffs thus far. There is no way I would've expected them to blow out the Sun on the road without Douglas.
Is there a term for what Catchings is doing in this game more stronger than merely "leading" or "carrying" her team? Shot putting maybe? This is a remarkable performance on both ends of the floor.
The last line was mostly in jest because the reality is that for all that Catchings is doing on both ends, her teammate are doing plenty. Erin Phillips and Erlana Larkins just executed a nice pick and roll for a layup. Then as I was writing that, Zellous made a layup … off a one-handed cross court bounce pass from Catchings when recognizing that the defense elected not to guard Zellous on that possession. So I'll go back to being in awe of Catchings.
Catchings blocked Jones with about 35 seconds left in the third. From this point on, I'll save words by only mentioning what Catch can't do.
Fourth quarter: 68-48 Indiana
Indiana's execution has fallen off in the fourth quarter and it looks like they're just coasting to the WNBA Finals at this point.
Lost in this performance will probably be that Briann January has really struggled handling the ball. I'm guessing this is not lost on the Minnesota Lynx coaching staff.
Pam Ward took "objectivity" to new heights by saying the Finals would begin with either Indiana or Connecticut on Sunday with under three minutes left and the Sun down by nearly 20 points.
The final couple of minutes were cut out due to technical difficulties, which were resolved in time to hear Catchings' on-court post-game interview: "I love playing basketball – God's given me the gift of being able to come out here and do what I do. So when I'm out here I hope everyone sees the passion I have. This is fun."
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