Fever’s Finest

September 15, 2005
It was the Indiana Fever’s finest season. It was a season that began with few expectations, yet ended within minutes of the WNBA Finals. It was a season with record wins and an unprecedented finish. It was the finest of six seasons for a growing franchise, and for the city and fans still learning to embrace the WNBA.

Guided by second-year coach Brian Winters, the 2005 Fever exceeded any preseason expectations set forth by fans, media and possibly even themselves. Let’s face it, the Fever had only once before qualified for the WNBA Playoffs. Never had the Fever won more than 16 games. And never had Indiana even had a winning season.

Led by All-Star Tamika Catchings and her new gritty, scrappy point guard Tully Bevilaqua, the 2005 Fever was the finest the franchise has ever seen – yet!

The Fever capped its season with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in the franchise’s six-year history. Though swept in two games by the Connecticut Sun, the Fever was but a play or two in each game from turning the series into its own trip to the WNBA Finals:

- In Game 1 of the series, Indiana had the ball while trailing by three with a minute to play. A costly turnover, though, followed by the Sun’s desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock expired, raised the deficit to six with just 30 seconds to play.
- In Game 2 with virtually the same situation, Catchings’ 3-pointer with 18 seconds in regulation sent the game to overtime. Catchings fouled out early in the OT, however, and the Fever couldn’t hang on.

So on Sept. 10, at Connecticut’s Mohegun Sun Arena, the season would close for the Fever – but not without raising expectations and realizing the foundation that had been built for seasons to come.

The Fever led the WNBA in steals and boasted the league’s second-ranked defensive unit, all while setting a franchise record with 21 regular season wins. Indiana (21-13 regular season, 2-2 playoffs) was 14-3 at home during the regular season to set another franchise mark, and match the Sun with the best home mark in the East. Indiana’s seven road wins were also a franchise-high.

While defense and rebounding became the Fever's trademark, another solid characteristic was the play of its bench. Indiana's reserves routinely outscored opponent bench players. Case in point - nine different Fever players led the team in scoring at some point.

As Connecticut posted the league’s best record and coasted to the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Fever maintained its second-place standing virtually the entire season, and clinched its own playoff spot with two weeks left in the regular season. In a rematch of its only previous playoff bid, in 2002 vs. New York, the Fever dispatched the Liberty in a two-game sweep to setup its dramatic trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The sweep of the Liberty was but one among dozens of highlights during the 2005 season. Here are just the first dozen:

  • All-Everything forward Tamika Catchings was named the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. She was joined on the WNBA All-Defense first team by teammate Tully Bevilaqua.

    - Veteran center Natalie Williams announced that she would retire at the close of the 2005 season, and fittingly capped her career with a double-double in her final game – combining 11 rebounds with a season-high 17 points in the loss to the Sun.

  • Catchings was named the WNBA’s Player of the Week on three different occasions, the most of any player in the league. She also became the fastest player in WNBA history to reach each of four milestones – 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 assists and 300 steals. Catchings reached the milestone during just her fourth WNBA season, shattering the seven-year pace that it took Sheryl Swoopes, the previous fastest to reach all four milestones.

  • The Fever drew 142,494 fans to 17 regular season home dates, drawing the second-largest figure in its six years at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Fever’s average attendance was 8,382.

  • The regular season win at Connecticut (Aug. 23) cemented the Fever as the East’s No. 2 seed. The Fever was one of just three teams to win at Mohegan Sun Arena, winning 69-63 and playing one of its finest games of the season. Not only did it even the season series with its eventual playoff nemesis, but the win clinched the home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

  • Pushing toward the playoffs, the Fever won five of its last six regular season games, lending credibility to the statement that, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish” that is important in winning championships. Though falling short in the Eastern Conference Finals, Indiana entered the conference finals winning seven of its last eight.

  • Among its biggest wins during that stretch was a 67-57 home win over the Washington Mystics (Aug. 18) that clinched not only a Fever playoff spot, but the first winning season in Indiana history.

  • Just as big a win was its road victory at Phoenix (Aug. 14) just four nights earlier. While devastating to the Mercury’s playoff hopes, Natalie Williams had 15 points and nine rebounds as Indiana earned a hard-fought win just one night after suffering a narrow loss in Los Angeles. Indiana closed its West Coast road trip by winning two out of three games.

  • In front of one of four home crowds over 9,000, the Fever beat defending WNBA champion Seattle (Aug. 4), 78-68, with Catchings scoring 24 points and Bevilaqua earning a win against her former teammates.

  • In the Charlotte Sting’s final season of play at Charlotte Coliseum, Indiana won both road games against the Sting. After losing each of eight previous outings at Charlotte Coliseum, the wins were Indiana’s first.

  • An overtime win over Detroit (June 15) was the first of three tightly-contested games with the Shock, which were all won by Indiana. The Fever beat the Shock in consecutive games on July 15 and 17, winning 62-57 at home before earning a 59-58 nail-biter on the road.

  • While the Fever accumulated four straight victories just once, Indiana also never lost more than two in-a-row during its entire season. The Fever began the season with three straight wins, including a road win at New York (May 26). Its second three-game win streak began with perhaps the most dramatic shot of the season – Kelly Miller’s running jumper through the lane with 0:00.9 seconds left to beat the Liberty (June 10) at Conseco Fieldhouse.

    Now, they are fond memories. Memories of the Fever’s finest season – yet!