Red-Hot Fever Move on to Conference Finals

Tom Rietmann | September 22, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tamika Catchings, Erlana Larkins and the rest of the Indiana Fever squad are playing like they can't be denied in their quest to win a second consecutive WNBA championship.

Indiana, seeded No. 4 in the East, eliminated No. 1 seed Chicago on Sunday with a sweep in the best-of-three conference semifinals. Catchings and Larkins both produced double-doubles as Indiana bolted to a 20-point halftime lead and easily held off the Sky for a 79-57 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Indiana's 22-point margin of victory was a franchise playoff high. The Fever's combined winning margin in the two games with Chicago (35) is the largest for any postseason series in team history. Added to last season's title run, it marked the third consecutive playoff series that Indiana won as the lower seed.

“I think we came out the last two games with … that fearlessness,” said Catchings, who collected 18 points and 12 rebounds in under 26 minutes of action. “We thought, 'We're here. Nobody expects us to be here. Nobody expects us to win.' I think that's the thing. We've always been the underdogs, so we're able to come out and just have fun and do what we know we're good at.”

The Fever, beset by injuries all season, didn't get much pre-playoff hype despite their status as defending champions. Now, with the team heading to the Eastern Conference finals for the sixth time in nine seasons, that might change.

“The message for us is just the confidence,” Catchings said when asked what the Chicago series means. “We are playing our best basketball right now and it starts with our defense.”

Indiana plans to take that same defensive intensity into the next round, where it will play the winner of the Atlanta-Washington series, starting with a road game on Thursday. Game 2 of the best-of-three conference finals will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Fieldhouse.

The Fever held Chicago to 29.8 percent shooting (17-of-57) in Game 2 and a 35.7 mark for the series. Sunday, Sky standouts Elena Delle Donne and Epiphanny Prince combined for 5-of-21 shooting. Sylvia Fowles led the Sky with 14 points and 14 rebounds, but she got only 13 shots.

“Fowles could have had 40 points if it wasn't for Erlana Larkins,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said.

Larkins' playoff performance is picking up where it left off last year, when she stunned the WNBA with a virtual double-double for Indiana's entire postseason run. In the Chicago series, her defense on Fowles was tough and persistent. And Larkins' Game 2 offense and rebounding -- 14 and 11-- left her with averages of 13 and 11 for the two wins over Chicago.

“Larkins may be 6-1 or 6-2, depending on how she wears her hair that night, but she plays like she's 6-4 or 6-5 because she is so physical,” Dunn said. “Anybody that she's going to guard know she's in for a battle. (Larkins) is a warrior.”

Said Larkins about her offense: “I am just more mindful now that I need to be somewhat of a presence down low. So when I catch the ball, it's more of an attack mindset these last few games.”

Shavonte Zellous, named earlier Sunday as the WNBA's Most Improved Player, rounded out the Fever's double-digit scorers with 10.

“When Katie (Douglas) went down at the start of season, Z became the shooting guard,” Dunn said about Zellous' contributions. “We were looking for ways to get her shots. She knows now she's a go-to player. Whereas last year she might have been third or fourth option, this year she knows she is first or second. She's involved in the system in a totally different way and she's really embraced that.”

The Fever played without Douglas, who is out for the postseason with a back injury. But others picked up the scoring slack, with rookie Layshia Clarendon totaling nine, Karima Christmas adding eight and Erin Phillips and Jeanette Pohlen each getting seven.

The Fever hit 27-of-59 shots from the floor (45.8 percent). Indiana outrebounded the visitors, 38-30.

“Anytime we can win the boards against a team as big as they are,” Dunn said, “we've done something really special.”