Valiant Effort Comes Up Short as Fever Fall in Double OT
By Wheat Hotchkiss | September 1, 2014
ROSEMONT, Ill. — The Indiana Fever were one second away from advancing to the WNBA Finals.
Tamika Catchings' step-back jumper with 11.6 seconds remaining in regulation was seemingly the climax to the latest chapter in her storybook career, giving Indiana a 71-69 lead.
With the game on the line, the Chicago Sky put the ball in the hands of its own leading scorer, Elena Delle Donne. But Indiana was ready for the Sky's 6-foot-5 wunderkind, double-teaming her off the inbounds and forcing her to launch a contested fadeaway from the right wing.
An Indiana victory seemed likely for much of Monday's contest, and for the briefest of moments — as Delle Donne's desperation heave bounced off the back side of the rim — it seemed inevitable.
But Tamera Young postponed the Fever's celebration, rebounding Delle Donne's miss and putting it back in with exactly one second remaining to extend the game and send the home crowd at Allstate Arena into hysterics. Chicago would go on to prevail in double overtime, 86-84, forcing a winner-take-all Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
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"It's the playoffs," Fever head coach Lin Dunn said after the loss. "We didn't expect them to lay down and die. We expected them to fight tooth-and-nail. I thought there were a couple of times there where maybe they just outworked us a little bit, and they were able to finish the game with a two-point lead."
It was a difficult loss to swallow for Indiana, who controlled the game for much of the night. They led by as many as 14 points in the first half and had a double-digit lead in the third quarter. They dominated the boards, outrebounding the Sky 49-35 overall and 20-8 on the offensive glass. And they played stellar defense on Chicago's two leading scorers, holding Delle Donne to nine points on 4-for-11 shooting and limiting guard Epiphanny Prince to just four points and no fields goals on nine attempts.
But the Sky persevered and grinded out a victory thanks to the dominance of their 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles and the strong supporting efforts of their backcourt.
Fowles finished with a game-high 27 points on 12-of-14 shooting. Seemingly every time she got a clean touch in the paint, she scored. Point guard Courtney Vandersloot added 18 points and five rebounds, while her backup Allie Quigley chipped in 16 points, five boards, and five assists.
"When (Fowles) can post up right there in the middle and everybody can spread out and you're worried about (their) shooters, it makes for a difficult situation," Catchings said.
Fowles got open in the paint to knot the score at 67 with her 10th made basket of the game with 1:59 to play in the fourth quarter, setting off a wild final two minutes of regulation.
On the ensuing possession, Briann January drove to the rim and found Erlana Larkins with a nifty behind-the-back pass to give the lead back to Indiana. Courtney Vandersloot answered with a layup of her own on the other end.
After Chicago forced a Fever shot-clock violation, the Sky had a chance to take the lead for themselves. But Delle Donne elbowed Catchings in the face — a foul that was originally ruled a flagrant but downgraded to a personal foul after video review — giving the ball back to Indiana.
As she has done so many times in her storied career, Catchings came through on the next possession, stepping by Delle Donne on the left wing and bouncing in a step-back jumper with 11.6 seconds remaining that looked like it might have punched Indiana's ticket to the WNBA Finals.
But Chicago wasn't ready to have its season end just yet, as Young put back Delle Donne's miss to force overtime.
The Sky struck first in extra time and maintained a small lead until Catchings connected on another jumper from the top of the key with 58.1 seconds left to knot the score at 79. Neither team could manage to score again in the final minute, sending the game to a second extra session.
Chicago scored first again to begin the next overtime and extended its lead to two possessions with Delle Donne's runner with 1:41 remaining. Shavtone Zellous answered with a three-point play on the other end, fouling Vandersloot in the process.
Allie Quigley's jumper with 1:04 to play extended the Sky's lead to 85-82. January then hit two free throws to trim the deficit back to one point with 12.2 seconds left. Fowles hit just one of two from the charity stripe on the other end, giving Indiana an opportunity to tie or win the game in the final seconds.
Zellous got off a 3-pointer from the right corner, but it bounced off the rim and out. Young was there once again to secure another crucial rebound, this one to seal the victory for Chicago.
Zellous led five Fever players in double figures with 20 points on the night. Catchings (16 points and 14 rebounds) and Larkins (14 and 11) each recorded double-doubles. Marissa Coleman scored 11 and Karima Christmas added 10 points and eight boards in the loss. January also had a big impact, contributing eight points, four rebounds, and six assists.
There is little time for the Fever to regroup, with Game 3 scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But the Fever can take solace in having been in this situation before — they were 4-0 facing elimination in their run to the 2012 WNBA title — and in the fact that they get to play the decisive game in the friendly confines of their home arena.
"We know how to bounce back and we know how to make adjustments," January said. "I'm glad we get to go home and play off of our fans and feed off of their energy."
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