86 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- Credit the Indiana Fever's resolve. Applaud the team's persistence. And don't forget to recognize some marvelous offensive performances by Katie Douglas and Jessica Davenport.
Indiana used a cohesive attack on Tuesday night to capture a stirring 91-86 victory over the visiting Phoenix Mercury. The Fever saw an 18-point lead shrink to three and also saw point guard Briann January go down with a fourth-quarter knee injury. But that's when the home team dug in.
“Our players are warriors,” Dunn said after the Fever (7-3) won its fourth consecutive game and became the first WNBA team with seven victories. “They have a lot of character.”
As the Fever players left Conseco Fieldhouse, however, an element of uncertainty dampened the joy of knocking off a Mercury team that had won four in a row. January had to be helped from the floor with 9:17 left after she collided with Penny Taylor. January was scheduled for an MRI on her knee on Wednesday.
Coach Lin Dunn, reluctant to address January's future until further tests are completed, said the Fever team is “guardedly optimistic” the injury won't be serious. If January's condition sidelines her for any amount of time, Dunn said Indiana might employ a “point guard by committee” plan.
“For us, obviously, it was a big loss,” Fever forward Tamika Catchings said about playing most of the fourth quarter without January. “But we have a great team and great players, and like any team you rally around those that are hurt.”
Douglas led Indiana with 26 points, including six 3-pointers that tied a franchise record. She also recorded six assists and played point guard for the final 5 minutes of the game.
“I'm just happy we were able to rally around Bri and get this victory,” said Douglas, who has hit 27-of-54 3-pointers (50 percent) this year.
Many observers believe Douglas is playing the finest basketball of her 11-year WNBA career. Count Dunn and Catchings among them.
“She's doing a little bit of everything for us,” Catchings said about Douglas. “Definitely, (it's) the best that I've seen her.”
Douglas shrugged off the high praise.
“I just take what the defense is giving me,” said the Indianapolis native and Purdue graduate. “If they're going to step back, I'm going to try my best to knock down shots. That's what I'm here to do.”
And when she wasn't burying shots on Tuesday night, she often was maneuvering on the pick-and-roll, with Catchings or Jessica Davenport as the beneficiary. With Catchings at power forward and Davenport at center, Douglas made sure one of them got the ball whenever there was no open look from outside.
Davenport scored a career-high 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting after missing only on the Fever's final possession. Catchings finished with 14 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals but preferred to talk about Davenport's contribution.
“She's a presence,” Catchings said. “She's big, she's dominant. It's hard to get around her when she gets into a full post-up.”
The Fever offense riddled the Mercury through the first 25 minutes and finished with 53 percent shooting (35-of-66). Indiana's 91 points were a season high.
“I thought we moved the ball pretty well tonight,” Davenport said. “That's something we need to do. We're a great team when we have a lot of weapons. Everybody needs to touch the ball.”
The Fever led by 18 twice in the third quarter, but Phoenix (4-4) didn't wilt. An 11-1 run to end the third, capped by a 3-pointer by Marie Ferdinand-Harris, pulled the visitors within 73-65. A fast-break bucket by Alexis Gray-Lawson made it a three-point game (76-73) with 7:46 remaining in the fourth quarter.
That's when Indiana steeled itself. Davenport, Catchings and Douglas took over, scoring their team's final 15 points. A spin move and layup by Catchings sent the Fever up 86-77 with 3:20 left, providing breathing room.
“They made some runs at us,” Douglas said. “But I felt like we kept our composure and we were able to beat a very good team that's been playing very well lately.”
The Mercury hit 55.2 percent from the field (32-of-58), but star Diana Taurasi, with 15 points on just 5-of-14 shooting, was held 5.2 points under her season average.
“You're never too far ahead of Phoenix with their great 3-point shooters,” Dunn said. “I thought we had some great defensive effort tonight in holding Taurasi and Penny Taylor (10 points).”
The Fever's winning streak is especially impressive, considering the team collected three of the four victories in a four-night span. Now Indiana is off until Tuesday, July 5, when it plays Seattle in the second of five straight games at The Fieldhouse.
For Douglas, who recently missed almost two games with a bruised lower back, the week off will be welcome.
“I'm kind of surprised I'm able to get out there,” Douglas said. “I don't feel real good throughout the day, but I guess the adrenalin starts going and I want to be out there as much as I can for my team. I'm definitely going to take this week and try to heal things up.”