Christmas is Unsung Standout in Fever's 2013 Push

By Tom Rietmann | September 24, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Indiana Fever traded for Karima Christmas midway through 2012, the team figured it had acquired a young player who could help in the future with her versatility and tenacity as a defender and rebounder.

In reality, the Fever gained even more -- much more -- in the swap for Christmas.

The future arrived quickly and suddenly. In 2013, Indiana dealt with injuries from the outset, and Christmas was thrust into the starting lineup by the sixth game. Her invaluable contributions helped to keep the Fever ship afloat amid rough seas and steer it toward the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Now, with the Fever fresh off a sweep of Chicago in the conference semifinals and heading into the finals against Atlanta, it's not a stretch to say Christmas is the unsung hero of the club's quest to repeat as WNBA champions.

Take it from Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's president and general manager.

“Karima's growth from when training camp started to where we are today is as significant as any player I've ever seen in this franchise or in the WNBA,” Krauskopf said.

During the injury-plagued regular season, Christmas and Erlana Larkins were the only Fever players to see action in all 34 games. Christmas' scoring average (8.6) didn't truly reflect her production as she hit double digits 14 times, including in seven straight games at midseason. She ranked second on the team in steals (63), second in offensive rebounding (64) and third in overall rebounding (141).

When Katie Douglas suffered a back injury that kept her out most of the season, Shavonte Zellous moved from starting small forward to starting shooting guard, and Christmas moved into Zellous' spot. The 6-foot Christmas also played at times as backup power forward.

“Karima hasn't flinched,” Krauskopf said. “Every time something has been thrown at her, she has embraced the challenge and the opportunity.”

So much so that many in the Fever camp thought Christmas' play warranted a little attention in the race for Most Improved Player in the WNBA. Zellous, deservedly, won the Most Improved award, receiving 30 of 39 votes. Nine other players each got one vote, but Christmas was not among them.

“The fact there was a nine-way tie and she wasn't involved in it was stunning to me,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said. “When you go from being the 11th man to starting in one year, and now you're a go-to player and you're defending everybody's best player, it seems like she got a little overlooked in that improved area.”

Christmas, for her part, simply keeps moving forward. She went out in Game 1 against Chicago and produced 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists in an 85-72 victory. She added eight points and three boards in the second game as the Fever closed out the Sky, 79-57.

Besides her offense against Chicago, Christmas also played a part in defending Sky leading scorer Elena Delle Donne whenever Tamika Catchings didn't have the duty. Delle Donne went 2-for-11 from the field in Game 2.

“Defense and rebounding -- those are the two things I've always focused on, no matter what,” said Christmas. “I always take pride in shutting someone down or getting rebounds.”

Christmas can run the floor from either of the forward positions. She can hit 3-pointers, connecting on 30-of-100 (30 percent) during the regular season.

Dunn talks often about Christmas' “high basketball IQ.” Christmas' teammates praise her “warrior mentality.”

“I'm happy to just take my role and roll on with it,” said Christmas, who played college basketball at Duke. Christmas came to the Fever last season in a trade with Tulsa, who received Roneeka Hodges.

Now comes the best-of-three series against the Dream, which opens Thursday night at Atlanta, with Game 2 on Sunday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Dream lineup will be taller than Indiana's, just as Chicago's was. The Fever will have to be in attack mode on the boards.

“It's (about) just trying to get better every game,” Christmas said. “We've had two games where it was great team effort. We outrebounded Chicago, and not a lot of people thought we could do that. We have to do the same thing with Atlanta.”