UNCASVILLE, Conn. Oct. 11 – This was a team that won 25 games and the Eastern Conference championship in the regular season. They had the best record on the road in the WNBA – an impressive accomplishment in a league that flies its teams in coach. They had the league MVP (Tina Charles) and sixth man of the year (Renee Montgomery).
And this was a team that was hammered in a decisive game 3 for the WNBA’s Eastern Conference championship. The visiting Indiana Fever won its first playoff game in four tries at the Mohegan Sun and whipped the Connecticut Sun, 87-71 Thursday to earn a spot in the 2012 WNBA Finals beginning Sunday at Minnesota.
Indiana returns to the finals for the second time in its history – they lost in 2009. The Sun was looking for their first trip to the finals since 2005.
The Fever broke the game open with its deadly three-point shooting. Indiana hit 10-of-16 from long range including 7-for-7 in the first half when Indiana seized command of the contest. The Fever sank eight of its first 10 three-points shots.
When the Fever’s long-range accuracy cooled a bit, they began to drive to the basket with regularity. And when they began to miss shots, they ripped down offensive rebounds, especially in the third quarter when Connecticut desperately tried to climb back into the contest.
Tamika Catchings led the Fever with 22 points and a game-high13 rebounds while Erin Phillips had playoff career-high 15 points, including 3-of-4 from three-point range. Jeanette Pohlen, who didn’t score a point in the first two games of the series, was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor, draining four three-points shots for 14 points. And Indiana did this without its leading scorer, Katie Douglas, who left the game early in the first quarter after landing on the foot of Connecticut’s Tan White and severely spraining her ankle.
Connecticut was led by Tina Charles with 18 points while Kara Lawson and Renee Montgomery added 13 points each. Ashja Jones scored 10 for the Sun. Connecticut missed its first 10 three-point attempts and only sank 4-of-16 from long range.
“We got outplayed in every phase possible,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “We’re missing all of our shots, they’re making everything. At halftime, they were 7-for-7 from 3-point range and we were 0-for-10. It is one of the most disappointing losses.”
Even without Douglas, who helped Connecticut to a pair of Eastern Conference titles in 2004 and 2005, the Fever were able to advance.
“When Katie went down you could just see the fire in our eyes,” Indiana coach Lin Dunne said. “We just took it up a whole another level. We could’ve folded up our little tent and gone home and that’s a high tribute to ourselves.”
Indiana had an early 10-point lead in the first quarter but the Sun trimmed it to four, 20-16 after Charles sank a hook shot in the lane and Montgomery hit two foul shots with 7:33 remaining in the second quarter.
But Indiana went on a 12-0 run with Catchings scoring seven points. The Fever drained four three-point shots in the second quarter as they finished out the first half with a 23-8 surge that overwhelmed Connecticut, which couldn’t stop the Fever and couldn’t convert at the basket.
“I have no idea what the problem was defensively, it changed from quarter to quarter,” Thibault said. “They made jump shots with a hand in their face. We missed and they got long rebounds and ran. When we tried to make a run in the second half, (Briann) January just drove by people. Sometimes when you’re missing shots that much, the other team gains confidence. It’s a snow ball mental effect.”
Catchings said Douglas’ injury sharpened the focus among the Fever. “Everybody stepped up. Our bench was huge,” Catchings said. “Everybody was in it and focused. It’s just one of those surreal moments where ‘Okay we’re here, and we’re not going to let it slip away from us.’”
Connecticut cut the deficit under 20 a few times in the second half but the Fever never let the Sun get a rally going. Defensively, Indiana relentlessly double teamed Charles and Lawson, who scored just two points of her 13 points in the first half. Offensively, Indiana got good penetration and frequently drove past Jones and her teammates for baskets. Indiana’s ball movement in the first half was crisp and led to its three-point shooting binge.
And mercifully for Sun fans, the TV feed on ESPN2 failed so only the few thousand fans left in the arena saw the final two minutes and the Fever celebrating an Eastern Conference championship on the Sun’s home floor.
“It’s a shame that all of the good stuff we did will be defined by this, “ Thibault said. “But you’re judged by your last game. In big games there is a toughness mentally and physically that you have to have. It’s hard to be a champion, we’re not there yet.”
RIM DUST: For the second time, the Sun lost in game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on their home floor. The Detroit Shock won game 3 in Connecticut over the Sun in 2006. …. Indiana won an elimination game for the fourth time in the last five games. … It was the first time that Indiana has won a playoff series without having home court advantage. … Indiana set a team record for three-point shooting percentage in a playoff game (62.5 percent, 10-of-16). … Indiana’s 24-point lead was its largest ever in a road playoff game. That lead was the second highest ever in Fever history. Indiana had a 25-point lead over the Sun in game 2 of the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinals. … Seven straight three-point shots was the most in playoff history without a miss.
Indiana 87, Connecticut 71
Indiana (87) Catchings 7-16 6-6 22, Douglas 1-2, 0-0 2, Larkins 2-5 0-0, 4, Phillips 6-10 0-1 15, January 5-11, 2-3 12, Zellous 5-8 0-0 11, Davenport 3-4 0-0 6, Pohlen 5-4 0-0 11, Sutton Brown 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 34-62, 9-12, 87
Connecticut (71) Greene 0-4 0-0 0, Jones 5-9 0-0 10, Charles 8-17 2-4 18, Hightower 4-8 2-2 10, Lawson 5-15 4-4 16, White 2-5 0-0 4, Montgomery 4-6 3-4 13, Mims 0-1 0-0 0, McCray 0-1 0-0 0, Griffin 0-3 0-0 0, Moore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-69, 11-14, 71
Indiana 18 25 25 19 – 87
Connecticut 10 14 24 23 – 71
Three point goals: Indiana 10-16 (Catchings 2-5, Phillips 3-4, January 0-1, Zellous 1-1, Pohlen 4-4, Sutton Brown 0-1); Connecticut 4-18 (Greene 0-1, Hightower 0-1, Lawson 2-8, White 0-3, Montgomery 2-4, McCray 0-1); A — 6,516