Tamika Catchings scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Fever to the biggest comeback in WNBA Playoff history.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images
The Indiana Fever pulled off the biggest comeback in WNBA history Monday night when they rallied from 22 points down to defeat the Connecticut Sun and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The previous biggest deficit overcome was 21 points, by the Minnesota Lynx in a 74-72 win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Aug. 28, 2003.
After leading by 12 points at the end of the first quarter, Connecticut stretched its lead to 39-17 at the 6:36 mark of the second quarter before the Fever began to chip away at the deficit.
“Never once in this game did we say that, ‘We’re not going to win,' ” Tamika Whitmore said after the game. “Coach told us all game long just to peck away at it little by little, and that’s what we did.”
Indiana cut the Connecticut lead to a dozen at the break, but made no headway in the third quarter. The fourth quarter began with the Sun still leading by 12 and scoring the first two baskets of the period to extend the lead to 16.
The Fever responded with a 19-2 run over the next six minutes to take a 67-66 lead -- their first lead since being up 5-3 just two minutes and 15 seconds in the game. However, Indiana could not hold onto a three-point lead in the final minute and needed overtime to knock off the Sun.
Tamika Catchings led all scorers with 30 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining in overtime. Whitmore added 24 off the bench for Indiana, while Anna DeForge chipped in 18 -- her lowest scoring total of the series.
“We dug ourselves a huge hole,” Indiana coach Brian Winters said. “When we got down early, I told them we can’t get it back all at once, keep pecking away.
"I can’t say enough about my players. They dug down deep and had a lot of heart. People that saw this game on TV saw how good WNBA basketball can be.”
A Sense of Déjà vu
This was not the first time the Fever staged a huge comeback against the Sun in this series. In Game 1, Connecticut led by 17 points late in the third period, but Indiana came storming back to force three overtime sessions before the Sun could close them out.
Indiana got the only easy win of the series with a 19-point blowout win at home in Game 2. Following that game, Connecticut’s Katie Douglas made a comment to local Connecticut paper The Day that provided Indiana with some bulletin board material for Game 3.
“I really can't explain it,” Douglas said. “It was like the other night (Game 1). We had a 17-point lead and we could have slit their necks. Now they have some confidence against us.”
“(That) was an article we put in our lockers … where Katie Douglas said (the Sun) could have slit our necks,” Whitmore said. “I wanted to prove they couldn’t."
After losing the first five games of the season to the Sun, the Fever found a way to win the final two games and now face the winner of Tuesday night’s New York-Detroit game in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Nearly a Monday Night Double Feature
Indiana wasn’t the only team to make a dramatic rally on Monday night. In the Western Conference Semifinals in San Antonio, the visiting Sacramento Monarchs would not go down without a fight.
The Silver Stars built a 20-point lead late in the first half and maintained a double-digit advantage throughout the third quarter. With two minutes remaining in the third period, Sacramento trailed 63-47 and closed to within 11 at the end of the period.
The rally continued in the fourth quarter as Nicole Powell (18 of her 20 points came in the second half) and Kara Lawson (10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter) led the way for the Monarchs. Lawson’s layup with 1:07 remaining gave Sacramento its first lead since the first quarter.
San Antonio struck right back with a Becky Hammon 3-pointer to give the Silver Stars a two-point lead, but Lawson’s layup on the Monarchs' next possession knotted the game at 78.
While Sacramento’s comeback was valiant, it was all for naught, as Becky Hammon found Vickie Johnson for the game-winning layup with five-tenths of a second left, sending San Antonio to the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Mercury.
More of the Same on Sunday
Let’s not forget about the other first-round playoff series in which we saw a pair of nail-biters on Sunday.
In Auburn Hills, the defending champion Detroit Shock appeared ready to even their series with the New York Liberty with ease after building a 17-point second-half lead. However, the young Liberty squad was able to turn the tables on the Shock to nearly pull off the upset and sweep the series.
Two big defensive plays by Plenette Pierson in the final minute sealed the 76-73 win for the Shock and tied the series at one game apiece. The winner will be decided Tuesday, once again in Auburn Hills, with the victor facing the Indiana Fever on Friday.
“(The Liberty) had their chance to win the series -- we could not win the series today,'' Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We had to stave off elimination to get that chance to win the series. Now, it's our turn to win the series.”
In Phoenix, the white-hot Mercury had to withstand a furious second-half rally by the Seattle Storm. Trailing by as many as 22 points in the third quarter, the Storm tied the game on Betty Lennox’s jumper with 2:50 remaining.
"This is the playoffs, and 40 minutes is a very long time,'' said Sue Bird, who scored 21 points for Seattle. “You can look at all the games being played right now -- every team that's had a 15- or 20-point lead, the other team has sure enough come back.''
The comeback was short-lived, however, as Diana Taurasi hit a 3-pointer on Phoenix’s next possession to give the Mercury a lead that they would not relinquish down the stretch to complete the sweep of the Storm.
"We're always an interesting team,'' Mercury coach Paul Westhead said after the game. "We never let you get in the parking lot and let you get home early. On the one hand, I have to give credit to Seattle -- they never gave up and they kept at us, cutting up our zone a little bit.''
If the first five days of the WNBA Playoffs is any indication, the road to the WNBA Finals promises to be an exciting ride. Stay tuned to ESPN2, ABC and NBA TV for all of the action.
And whatever you do, don’t turn off the game if a team gets down big. You might miss a record-breaking comeback.