UNCASVILLE, Oct. 8 – The Connecticut Sun can earn a trip to the WNBA Finals for the third team in team history Monday night with a victory over the Indiana Fever in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals (8 p.m., ESPN2) in Indianapolis.
A win by the Fever would force a decisive Game 3 on Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
League MVP Tina Charles had 18 points and 15 rebounds in Connecticut’s 76-64 game 1 victory over Indiana on Friday night to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 series. She scored 14 of her 18 points and pulled down nine of her 15 rebounds in the second half and had 10 points and six rebounds in the third quarter.
“We tried to get Tina more on the move as the game went on, or put her in a position where she might not be shooting but could get an offensive rebound,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “Each round you go, the pressure steps up and you have to adjust to the other team. The higher pressure the game, the more physical it is.”
Charles didn’t do it alone. Kara Lawson scored 16 points while Renee Montgomery had 13 points and a playoff career-high seven assists. Asjha Jones added 11 points.
Indiana scored 22 points in the first quarter of Game 1 but was held to just 21 points in the second and third quarters as Connecticut seized command. The Sun held the Fever to 7-of-34 shooting (20.6 percent) in the middle two quarters.
Former Sun All-Star Katie Douglas led Indiana with 27 points, including 5-of-10 from three-point range. But she didn’t get as much help. Olympian Tamika Catchings was limited to just seven points and two field goals thanks to some stellar defense from another U.S. Olympian, Jones. “We made her (Tamika Catchings) work to get the ball,” Thibault said. “We made her uncomfortable every time she caught the ball.”
Added Thibault, “It was a very physical game, defense-oriented by both teams. We were able to finally, mid-second quarter to the end of the third quarter, get control of the game. We controlled two of the things we wanted to control – our rebounding and free throw difference. Our turnovers were close but for the most part we did what we wanted to do.”
Connecticut will need that focus again in game 2 if they want to return to the finals for the first time since 2005 to face the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, who swept the Los Angeles Sparks, 2-0 in their best of 3 Western Conference final Sunday.
“It’s a long series. We just have to be sound in what we are doing,” Lawson said. “We have to execute and be focused and not turn the basketball over. Obviously they are a team that is very aggressive, a great defensive team. Both teams talked about at length how rebounding is key to this series. We know that they are going to play with a lot of energy. That’s what teams do when they are facing elimination. This is far from over.”
Earlier this season, the Sun beat Indiana, 88-85 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in June. Two days later, the Fever throttled Connecticut by 34 points and handed the Sun their worse loss of the season.
“Let’s give Connecticut credit, they’re a tremendous defensive team,” Indiana coach Lin Dunne said. “They fought us tooth and nail, and when we did get wide open looks, we either passed them up and allowed their defense to recover, or we didn’t knock down the shots.
“If we shoot 38%, they shoot 43% and they’re going to win the ballgame,” she said. “We need to shoot 42%. I’m not asking for a miracle, I’m asking to go from 38% to 42% and I think we can do that but we’ve got to step up and knock down those open shots. I also think we have to keep our poise and composure.”
Game 1 review
Connecticut 76, Indiana 64: Connecticut, which used a 14-2 second-half run to open up what had been a tie game at halftime. Lawson had 16 points for Connecticut and Tan White added 13 for the Sun, which has won eight of its last nine games.
Douglas, who spent her first seven years in the WNBA with the franchise that moved from Orlando to Connecticut, had 27 points to lead the Fever. Charles had just four first-half points but came alive in the third quarter, scoring 10 and grabbing six rebounds as the Sun broke open a 30-30 game. Charles brought the crowd into the contest with an offensive rebound, putback and free throw that highlighted the Sun’s big run.
Connecticut led 54-43 after three quarters and by as many as 16 in the fourth. Catchings had a blocked shot, a rebound, an assist and a three-point field goal in the game’s opening minute to set the tone for Indiana. But she missed her next 11 shots and finished with just seven points and nine rebounds. The Sun missed their first four shots and hit just two of their first ten.
Douglas, who hit 11 of 19 shots, had 10 first-quarter points and the Fever closed the quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 22-14 lead. Charles began to assert herself on defense in the second. She had all four of her blocked shots in the period, as the Sun limited the Fever to just eight points, and held Douglas scoreless.
Jones had 11 points for the Sun, and defended Catchings for much of the game. Erlana Larkins, who didn’t break the starting lineup until two games before the playoffs, had nine points and eight rebounds. The Fever is in its fifth conference final in the last eight years.