74 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann | September 22, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- INDIANAPOLIS -- Each of the Indiana Fever's players recently received a necklace inscribed with five letters: FINAO. The letters stand for “failure is not an option.”
Thursday night, nobody took that inscription more seriously than Fever forward Tan Smith. The 14th-year veteran scored a career playoff high of 25 points, including a Fever-record five 3-pointers, and pushed her team to an 82-74 victory over the Atlanta Dream in Game 1 of the WNBA Eastern Conference finals.
Top-seeded Indiana, which was 0-4 against the third-seeded Dream during the regular season, will play Game 2 of the best-of-three series Sunday in Atlanta.
For Smith, who has a pair of WNBA championship rings from her years in Phoenix, it was a special night. She missed her first two shots but persevered. Smith took advantage of Atlanta's defensive emphasis on Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas and kept shooting.
“They continued to leave me open and I was fortunate to knock down the shots,” said Smith, who's among the all-time leaders in the WNBA in scoring and rebounding.
Smith’s mother and grandmother were among about 10 family members who traveled from Chicago for the game. They saw a superb performance from a player whom the Fever acquired during the offseason. She also had nine rebounds.
“Tan did exactly what we expected her to do,” said Fever Coach Lin Dunn, who used the 6-3 forward extensively Thursday night in the team's ‘pick-and-pop’ play. “She has the green light. When she's open, we want her to shoot.”
Indiana's two main scorers, Douglas and Catchings, were held to 11 and 12 points, respectively. That's what made Smith's big night even more important.
“Awesome,” Catchings, named the league's MVP earlier in the day, said about Smith's performance. “She came out on fire.”
It was center Tammy Sutton-Brown who handed out the FINAO necklaces to her teammates recently. She scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Mostly, she was happy to break the hold that Atlanta had on her team during the regular season.
“Tonight was huge,” Sutton-Brown said. “Being 0-4 against Atlanta, we wanted to send a statement and get this first win and keep home-court advantage.”
It wasn't easy. The fourth quarter started in a 57-all tie. Smith hit a pair of treys and Shavonte Zellous scored five points off the bench. Five minutes into the quarter, Indiana held a 68-62 edge.
“I did what I always try to do, come off the bench and bring energy,” Zellous said after totaling 11 points. “But this series is far from over.”
Catchings, coming off a whirlwind two days after hearing about her MVP honor, went to work midway through the fourth quarter. When Catchings was wrestled to the floor by Iziane Castro Marques, who was called for a flagrant foul with 4:24 left, the Conseco Fieldhouse crowd of 8,253 got fired up.
When Catchings made an over-the-head, backward shot as she drove to the bucket in the final two minutes, the Fever went up 74-66. The play was symbolic of many great ones Dunn has seen from the league's MVP.
“And the win,” Dunn added, “was an exclamation point.”
Indiana finished off the victory with eight free throws. The Fever outscored Atlanta 23-9 at the foul line.
“We were attacking,” Dunn said. “That's really big for us.
Indiana held Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta's star forward, to 11 points and zero rebounds. The Dream is a physical team, but the calls went against McCoughtry, who spent most of the game in foul trouble and got her sixth in the final minute.
“There were a lot of bodies flying,” Dunn said. “It got pretty physical. At the end of the day, I thought we matched their physical play.”
Indiana expects to see more on Sunday.