(ATLANTA) – Indiana only had two days to solve the problems the Atlanta Dream caused them in Game One or their plans in Indianapolis when they arrived back home would be cleaning out their lockers and buying plane tickets to Europe.
Indiana guard Briann January would keep the Fever alive with a career-high 24 points and send everyone back home with one more game to play as the Fever beat Atlanta 103-88 at Philips Arena in Game Two of the best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinals.
“For us to play very hard through some situations where we didn’t get inside the paint, we still played very hard,” Atlanta Dream head coach Fred Williams said. “Indiana came out firing and some shots they didn’t hit in Game One they hit in this game. At this point in time we are headed to Game Three.”
Atlanta came out of the gate like a team that wanted to knock out their dangerous opening round opponent as soon as possible, taking a 14-6 early lead on a jump shot by forward Sancho Lyttle. The Fever had opened with forward Erlana Larkins and guard Erin Phillips as starters, and forward/center Erika de Souza took advantage of Indiana’s size deficit with four first quarter rebounds. Fever head coach Lin Dunn decided to take her second time out of the game.
“As a staff we decided two things,” Dunn said. “If we missed some early box-outs we were going to stop the game immediately and talk about what they lead to, and they lead to lay-ups. We weren’t going to let them separate. We already decided we weren’t going to let these guys play through when I should have taken a time out. And I think that stopped it and got us refocused.
Atlanta went cold and a pair of free throws by center Tammy Sutton-Brown gave the Fever a 21-18 lead in a surprisingly physical first quarter. The Dream took the advantage to close the quarter on a buzzer beater from half-court from backup point guard Ketia Swanier that went in on a prayer and put Atlanta up 24-22.
Both teams struggled in the second quarter. Sutton-Brown provided a lot of energy for the Fever and could get Indiana above water but the rest of the team had to depend on guards Briann January and Shavonte Zellous. Despite Indiana’s 32-28 lead with 5:49 remaining in the first half, neither team had established a particularly fluid game and each side seemed to be undone by its own failures. Head coach Fred Williams suffered a technical after de Souza was charged with a late foul. Forward Katie Douglas provided little for Indiana and missed three straight free throws after a missed shot behind the arc and forward Tamika Catchings had eight first half rebounds but provided no offense.
The second quarter ended the only way it could – with both teams over the limit in fouls and continuous marches to the free throw line for giveaways to both teams. Atlanta took advantage of the bounty to go up 45-44, but Catchings hit her first shot - a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left in the half - to take a 47-45 lead into the locker room.
“I credit my teammates for fully motivating me and encouraging me,” Catchings said. “I credit Steph [White], she came up to me and said ‘They’re playing you so hard, but other people are stepping up’.”
The Fever had taken away the Dream’s ability to score into the paint, holding the Dream to just 10 points in the paint in the first half. However, Indiana scored no second chance points in the first half, compared to 10 from the Dream.
The third started with Lyttle picking up two quick personal fouls and Catchings hitting a pair of free throws to put Indiana up 51-45, the largest lead held by either team at that point. A drive plus free throw from Dream forward Angel McCoughtry closed the Dream back to 51-50, but the Fever scored the next six points forcing an Atlanta timeout. Lyttle and de Souza had four fouls each and the Indiana had found their tailwind, boosting the lead to 11 points, 65-54 with 4:06 left in the third. January was having an amazing game – she finished the quarter with 22 points, tying her career high - and the Dream had no defensive answer. With the Dream over the limit the Fever had plenty of opportunity to keep their cushion with their more consistent execution. Indiana would lead 78-65 going into the final quarter.
But Fred Williams often says that basketball is a game of runs, and the question was whether or not the Dream could grab one. The Fever led 82-65 early in the final quarter but the driving breaking play of McCoughtry and Dream point guard Lindsey Harding gave the Dream an 8-0 run, closing the score to 82-73 and forcing an Indiana time out. But Atlanta would only add one more basket to its run and Indiana was back to a double-digit lead, where they would stay for the rest of the game.
Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry scored 22 total points, with six rebounds and five assists, to lead the Dream. Lindsey Harding scored 17 points but it took her 20 shots to do it. Erika de Souza, in foul trouble, was not the force she’d be in the first quarter, finishing with 10 points and nine total rebounds.
For the Fever, Tamika Catchings scored 20 of her 25 points in the second half to lead all players, and finished with 13 rebounds for a double-double. Six Indiana players would finish in double figures.
“You don’t have six players in double figures very often,” Dunn said. “Five or four maybe, but six is a significant moment. And then to come in and score 103 points against a very good Atlanta team, I think those two things really stand out as impressive.”
Home court advantage returns to the Fever, but that doesn’t seem to mean very much with two visiting team wins in the series.
“Like coach said, it’s even, it’s one to one,” Catchings said. “It doesn’t matter where you play, we will go home, but when you look at it from the grand scheme of things, we’re both going to go there and it’s going to be a war.
The winner of Tuesday night's game in Indianapolis will face the Connecticut Sun in the Eastern Conference Finals.
== NOTES ==
* The game was the first time that the Dream had lost at home against an Eastern Conference team in the playoffs since losing to Detroit in 2009. (And Atlanta’s 94-79 loss to Detroit during the infamous Elmo Game wasn’t your typical “home” loss since it didn’t take place at Philips Arena.)
* The 103 points was the most ever given up by the Dream in a playoff game, beating the record established the year on October 5, 2011 when Atlanta lost to Minnesota 101-95 on the road in Game Two of the WNBA Finals.
* This was the second most points that Indiana had ever scored in a playoff game. They lost 120-116 in overtime to the Phoenix Mercury on September 29, 2009 in Game One of the WNBA Finals.