64 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann | October 2, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the last players to make the Indiana Fever roster in May has developed into one of the team's toughest and most reliable players in September and October.
Erlana Larkins, who wasn't part of a WNBA roster for two seasons before signing with Indiana in 2012, is known as “Larkins the lion” among her teammates. Tuesday night, she showed why, battling her way to 20 rebounds and 16 points as the Fever defeated visiting Atlanta, 75-64, and closed out the Dream in the third game of their best-of-three series in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Indiana advanced to the conference finals for the fifth time in eight seasons. The No. 2-seeded Fever will open a best-of-three series Friday night against top-seeded Connecticut at the Sun's arena.
Larkins' 20 rebounds tied Indiana's playoff record, set by Tamika Catchings in a triple-overtime loss at Connecticut in 2006. It also tied for second-most in league postseason history behind the 23 grabbed by Detroit's Cheryl Ford in 2007.
“Back in May, she showed glimpses of what she could do, and I think now she has just blossomed,” Fever guard Erin Phillips said about Larkins.
“People can score 30 points a game. But getting 20 rebounds, that's better than anything, I think. It's relentlessness. It's sacrificing your body, your energy, your effort to go for the rebounds and get extra possessions for the team.”
Fever Coach Lin Dunn moved Larkins into the starting lineup after a series-opening loss to Atlanta and the 6-foot-1 forward responded. She collected 16 points and seven rebounds in the second game at Atlanta. And Tuesday, she moved into the limelight.
Some might say Larkins is undersized for her position. That never concerned Dunn.
“She sure plays big, doesn't she?” the coach said. “It's almost like as the game goes along, she gets taller and taller.”
Larkins had the first double-double of her career by the second quarter.
“I'm not really shocked at myself,” Larkins said. “I think I'm shocking everybody else because at one point I was forgotten about. But Indiana gave me a chance to come here and contribute to their team.
“Relentless and tenacious,” Larkins said when asked to describe her style. “(Dunn) always preaches rebounding is about effort and hustle. You can't coach that.”
Katie Douglas scored 24 to lead Indiana. Her big game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse came two days after she struggled mightily in the Fever's Game 2 victory at Atlanta, getting just three points on 1-of-6 shooting.
In Game 3, Atlanta slightly altered its defense, yielding Douglas some open opportunities. She capitalized, hitting 9-of-19 shots from the field, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
“I'm a shooter. I'm a scorer,” Douglas said. “If they give me an open look, I'm going to take it. I felt good tonight. The ball was coming off my hands really well.
“It's saying 'thank you' to my teammates after Sunday, because I did not want to finish my season with that kind of performance. I definitely wanted to come out and put in a better effort tonight.”
Catchings and Briann January each contributed 16 points. January had seven points and an assist in the fourth quarter when the Fever applied the knockout punch. Catchings garnered four points and six rebounds in the quarter.
Using a 10-0 run, Indiana bolted from a six-point edge to a 16-point bulge at 75-59 with 1:07 remaining.
“They had a lot of runs in them,” Dunn said about Atlanta, “but we had the last run.”
A long 3-pointer by Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry tied the game at 39-all just before halftime. McCoughtry, the WNBA's leading scorer in the regular season, finished with 16 points. She hit only 1-of-9 shots in the second half and was whistled for a technical foul when she slapped the ball away from January during a stoppage in play.
Indiana's players vowed during halftime that they wouldn't be denied a victory. Catchings, who through much of the second half played with a bloody chin that required stitches, said it was an emotional locker room at the break.
“We came in here and said, 'Look, we're not going to let this go. We have 20 minutes to play Fever basketball.' I felt like we did a great job,” Catchings said.
FEVER TO HOLD PLAYOFFS RALLY
The Fever will be part of a playoffs rally for fans from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Nora Kroger at 1365 East 86th Street. A number of Fever players will be on hand from 5 to 6 p.m.