January, Zellous Propel Fever to 1-0 Lead

By Tom Rietmann | August 30, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana is one victory away from its third trip to the WNBA Finals since 2009.

Briann January and Shavonte Zellous made sure of that Saturday night, delivering 19 and 18 points, respectively, as the Fever gutted out a 77-70 victory over the visiting Chicago Sky. Game 2 of the best-of-three Eastern Conference Finals is Monday in Chicago.

Indiana fully expects Monday's game to be much like Saturday's. Chicago, the youngest team in the WNBA, isn't one that wilts easily. The Sky sliced a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to one before Indiana steadied itself to capture the Game 1 triumph.

“I know Monday is going to be a lot harder,” said Fever star Tamika Catchings, who was held to 10 points and 2-of-12 shooting from the field. “We have to look at tonight's game, get the positives and negatives and learn from it, and move forward.”

While Catchings struggled offensively, she played a pivotal role in defending Chicago star Elena Delle Donne. Delle Donne, who scored 34 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Atlanta, had 14 against the Fever and took only 12 field goal attempts in 35½ minutes.

“I thought we defended Delle Donne fairly well,” said Fever Coach Lin Dunn. “I still thought we could have defended her better. We had some schemes that defensively broke down. I don't know if it was miscommunication or lack of focus.”

Catchings agreed that the defense was less than perfect. But the Fever's offense -- primarily January and Zellous, and Maggie Lucas with eight points off the bench -- made up for that.

“Catchings can't carry the team every game, all the time, on both ends of the floor,” Dunn said. “I felt like tonight, somebody else was going to step up and help us, and those three did. That's a great sign to see.”

The Sky outshot the Fever from the field, 42.9 percent to 35.2. The 3-point shooting compensated for that difference: Indiana hit 9-of-21. Chicago was 1-of-8.

Still, a 14-1 run by the visitors left the Fever clinging to a 63-62 edge with 6:26 left in the game.

That's when Zellous buried a pair of 3-pointers. Erlana Larkins and January each added a pair of free throws shortly thereafter to extend Indiana's lead to 73-64 with 31.3 seconds remaining.

For Zellous, the game represented her best since the midway point of the season. She said Stephanie White, the team's associate head coach who will replace Dunn when the latter retires after this season, talked to her about being more aggressive offensively.

And with Catchings not having a big night offensively, Zellous knew the moment called for her to score points.

“We're a team of experience,” said Zellous, who also had six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots. “When we see somebody struggling or somebody down, we have the people who can pick up the slack.”

If Indiana goes on to win the series, perhaps it will be a case of a playoff-tested team reigning over a less experienced one. January, Zellous, Catchings and Larkins all played huge roles in the Fever's run to the 2012 WNBA championship. So did Karima Christmas off the bench.

“Everybody knows what it takes to win in the playoffs,” said January, who also had five rebounds and three assists in Game 1. “It takes everything you have. It takes all the extra effort.”

Chicago is playing in just its third postseason series in franchise history. However, a masterful comeback against Atlanta in the semis proved the Sky's mettle. The Fever expects more of the same from Chicago in Game 2.

“Even if you do get up on them, you cannot let up,” January said. “That was the emphasis throughout the whole game, just continue to push at them, push at them. And I know going to Chicago is going to be even tougher. They're going to make adjustments, and they play really well on their home court.”