New York City, NY - They passed each other in the hallway leading to the interview room. Tamika Catchings crossed path with New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer. The Liberty had just defeated the Indiana Fever 84-67 to draw first blood in the Eastern Conference best of three playoff.
Catchings gave a "good game coach," a gracious gesture by an outstanding talent and competitor. Deep down there was something Laimbeer could sense. Catchings' expression gave the indication she was saying "you got this, but we aren't done."
The most disappointing part of the evening for arguably the heart and soul of this Indiana team was not necessarily the margin of the final score. Nor was it her own minutes of struggling, 9 points on 4 of 9 shooting and four personal fouls. Rather it stemmed from effort. Or lack of it.
"That (lack of effort) is what bothers me most," Catchings said. "It was really disappointing to come out and not have that focus. In the playoffs, every game is so big you need to come to play with focus and intensity."
Catchings saw the Liberty bring ample focus and sense of purpose. The Fever were in New York the prior evening and had the chance to see New York eliminate the Washington Mystics in a down to the wire affair. She was not a bit surprised they came out so aggressively following the victory that eliminated the Mystics. No signs of fatigue from playing a game just 24 hours earlier.
From a technical standpoint there is a great deal Indiana must address. Forget the fact they won the season series over the Liberty. This is playoff time and New York of late, has taken it up a notch.
"We always know they (Liberty) will bring it defensively," Indiana coach Stephanie White said after game one. "Now they have really stepped up offensively."
Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince have provided an excellent inside/out combination. Now Kiah Stokes, adding to her outstanding defense, is getting more comfortable and assertive on the offensive end. Stokes had a game-high 21 points in game one vs. Indiana.
Sugar Rodgers has been shooting very well of late. With the Liberty ball movement, Rodgers often benefits from great looks and buries them. The Liberty are simply coming together on offense at a most opportune juncture without sacrificing one bit of their trademark relentless defense.
Still, Catchings realizes so much is on what her team is capable not what the Liberty may do. After Wednesday's game she said a day of travel/rest would be next. Then right back to preparations. The home court, a beautiful change after a rough road night, is welcome. The emphasis though is in what can be done, again.
"We were down 1-0 to (higher seed) Chicago last round," Catchings said. "We know it can be done. We know what we have to do." For the Fever, the challenge is in front of them. It all starts Sunday. "We'll be ready," she said. "I promise that."