After winning a classic series to reach the conference finals, the Indiana Fever must overcome the defending champion Detroit Shock if they want a shot at the WNBA title.
Indiana and Detroit - the top two teams in the East all season - begin their best-of-three conference final series on Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Fever, who were 21-13 in the regular season, advanced in dramatic fashion last week, taking two of three games in their first-round series with Connecticut.
They made the biggest comeback in WNBA playoff history in Monday's decisive Game 3, rallying from 22 points down before winning 93-88 in overtime. Indiana, which trailed 39-17 in the second quarter, bested the previous mark of 21 points set by Minnesota as it rallied for a first-round win over Los Angeles on Aug. 28, 2003.
"We did a great job as far as chipping, chipping, chipping," said Indiana's Tamika Catchings, who had game highs of 30 points and 13 rebounds. "We're not going to get 22 points in one possession."
Reserve Tamika Whitmore scored 24 points, and Anna DeForge added 18 for the Fever. DeForge, who managed only 8.7 points a game in the regular season, has averaged a league-high 25 points while shooting a WNBA-best 57.1 percent (28-for-49) from the field in the playoffs.
"With Anna shooting the ball well and playing well, it's another dimension for our team," Fever coach Brian Winters said. "Any time you have a situation where another team has be conscious of, it creates bigger spaces for other people to do what they do."
The Fever are in the conference finals for the second time in their eight-year existence. Indiana took both games of a opening-round matchup with New York two years ago, but didn't make it beyond the conference finals as they were swept by Connecticut.
Indiana may find it just as difficult to advance this year against top-seeded Detroit.
The Shock rebounded from a 73-51 road loss in the opener of their first-round series with New York, winning the next two games to avert an early playoff exit.
Deanna Nolan led Detroit in scoring in each game, and averaged 18 points in the series. She scored 22 in Tuesday's 71-70 overtime win at The Palace on Tuesday. However, Cheryl Ford may have been the biggest reason why the Shock advanced.
Ford, who missed 13 regular-season games due to injury, scored the winning layup in Game 2 on Sunday, and had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the decisive third game.
"I didn't think in my wildest dreams that I would get 39 minutes our of Cheryl (Tuesday), but that young woman's heart is enormous," Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said.
Ford played in only one of the Shock's four games against the Fever this season, scoring nine points in a July 20 victory at Indiana.
The Shock and Fever split their four-game season series, with each contest decided by 10 points or fewer.
"It's not going to be easy, we know that," Ford said on the Shock's official Web site. "Indiana is a great team, so we're just going to go in there and battle it out and see who wins this series."
The series shifts to Detroit for Game 2 on Sunday, and if necessary, for Game 3 on Monday.