Tamika Catchings finished just one rebound shy of posting the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history.
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PHOENIX, AZ, October 1, 2009 -- It took Tamika Catchings eight years to make it to her first WNBA Finals and her first experience on the championship stage left her with a sour taste.
In Game 1, the Defensive Player of the Year was plagued by foul trouble and looked frustrated and out of rhythm for the majority of the game. Having to guard the league’s Most Valuable Player and scoring champ, Diana Taurasi, can sometimes have that effect. Catchings finished with just eight points on 2-of-7 shooting in 31 minutes.
However, despite her struggles, the Fever still had a great opportunity to steal the game and home-court advantage from the Mercury. The game needed overtime to determine which team would claim the early advantage and Catchings spent the final 2:42 of the extra session on the bench after picking up her sixth foul. When she left the floor, the Fever held a 112-111 lead, but Phoenix went on to close the game by outscoring Indiana 9-4.
After the game, Catchings stepped up and put full blame for the loss on herself.
“I’m really upset with myself; I let my team down tonight, and it won't happen again,” she said.
She sure didn’t let her team down in Game 2. Catchings led the way on both ends of the court as the Fever evened the best-of-five series at one game apiece with a 93-84 win on Thursday night in Phoenix.
Two days after scoring just eight points in an overtime game, Catchings finished Game 2 with 19 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, coming just one rebound shy of recording the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history. There has been only one triple-double achieved in WNBA playoff history when Sheryl Swoopes of the Houston Comets tallied 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 3 of a first-round matchup with Seattle in 2005.
It took Catchings just over eight minutes to better her Game 1 offensive output as she completed a three-point play with 1:41 to play in the opening quarter to score her 11th point of the game.
“My mindset tonight was to be aggressive,” she said after the game. “In Game 1, I was definitely not playing my game. Being in foul trouble kind of played around with me a little bit and I was not being as aggressive as I should have been. Tonight it was about coming out, being aggressive, taking the ball straight to the basket and defensively just trying to be all up on Diana as early as I could and just be there. It was definitely a great start for our team.”
“I think Catch did a great job coming out right from the beginning and being aggressive and setting the tone for the game,” said Fever center Tammy Sutton-Brown.
Fever coach Lin Dunn made a concerted effort to get her star player going early and was not surprised at all with the result.
“I expect that every night; she had a super game,” Dunn said. “Early on she was attacking off the dribble, she didn't get into any foul trouble so she was able to get into an offensive rhythm. We were running sets for her to get going, so when she can stay in the game and not get into foul trouble she is a totally different ballplayer.”
Staying out of foul trouble while still finding a way to contain Taurasi is a difficult task, but on Thursday Catchings was able to accomplish the feat. While Taurasi did score a game-high 20 points, she did it on 7-of-22 shooting from the field and 2-of-10 shooting from three-point range, where she is so dangerous.
How important was staying out of foul trouble for Catchings?
After the game, Catchings was surrounded by reporters and asked how she felt about coming so close to posting a triple-double. Her response was very tempered as she said, “Wow, really? That’s awesome. I didn’t know that.”
About a minute later, when it was mentioned that she only committed three fouls during the game, it elicited a much different response.
“Whooooo! And I only two in the first half,” she said emphatically. “Just staying on the court was so important. I have to be on the court. Good things happen when I’m on the court regardless if I’m scoring or not.”
After her 11-point opening quarter, Catchings’ offensive production slowed as she was held to eight points the rest of the way. But in this game the Fever didn’t need her to score. Indiana had six players score in double figures on the night, including a pair of important performances off the bench from rookie Briann January and the seldom used Jessica Davenport, who came to Indiana midseason to replace
January, who Catchings said is playing more like a seasoned veteran than a rookie, scored 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting (3-of-4 from three-point range). Meanwhile, Davenport came in and scored 10 points and blocked three shots in just under 12 minutes of play.
With her teammates picking up the scoring load after the opening quarter, Catchings was able to do what she does best: defend and fill up the stat sheet. And she nearly made WNBA history in the process as she flirted with the triple-double for the entire fourth quarter.
“She sets the tone on the defensive end and on the offensive end,” said Sutton-Brown. “That’s testimony to how great a player she is. She’s just been so wonderful to play with.”
In Game 1 Catchings was a shell of herself, while in Game 2 she exuded the passion, tenacity, determination and skill that havs made her a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. Two more performances from the Game 2 Catchings could have the Fever hoisting a championship trophy.
"Meek was all over the place, she was doing her thing tonight and that’s what I love to see.” said Ebony Hoffman. “She was disappointed in the first game but she came out today like a mad woman. That mad woman is going to stay. I’m going to keep on her and make sure she stays that tigress that she is.”