75 at New York
By Tom Rietmann
The game was a steady drumbeat of collisions, none more furious than Cappie Pondexter's body-slam and foul on Tamika Catchings with 7:41 left in the third quarter. Catchings loved the fierceness of the matchup. Her Indiana teammates thrived on it, too.
It was that kind of tough and physical night as the Fever squared its Eastern Conference semifinal series with New York at 1-1. Indiana built a 21-point lead Sunday night and captured a 75-67 victory over the visiting Liberty that wasn't as close as the score suggested. The final of the best-of-three series is set for Wednesday night in New York.
Indiana turned up the defensive pressure and held the Liberty to 36.8 percent shooting. The Fever held Pondexter, the Liberty's star guard, to 8-of-22 from the field. Indiana also outrebounded the visitors 41-36 as the referees allowed the teams plenty of leeway in tough block-outs and screens.
“We relished it instead of shying away from it,” Indiana forward Ebony Hoffman said about the rough play. “Instead of saying we didn't want the contact, we went toward the contact. When they did call the fouls, we capitalized on it and made the free throws.”
Indiana went to the foul line 29 times, hitting 23. The Fever outscored the Liberty by 10 there as Indiana players worked in the lane and refused to settle for jump shots.
“Our M.O. tonight was attack, attack, attack,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said.
Nobody played with more intensity than Catchings, who led the Fever with 17 points and 13 rebounds. It was the 14th double-double in her 30th playoff game. And the collision with Pondexter, who will be her teammate in a few weeks on the U.S. team that will play in the World Championships, only served to fire up Catchings more.
“Let's go. Let's go,” Catchings said, smiling as she remembered her thoughts right after Pondexter's foul. “If this is going to be how we'll play, let's go. Let's have fun.”
The Fever took their biggest lead of the game, 21 points, about one minute later.
The Fever's defense clamped down on New York, making sure Pondexter didn't bury them and holding the other four starters to a total of 15 points. Essence Carson came off the Liberty bench to score 20 but only got five in the final quarter when her team tried to make a push.
“They disrupted us,” New York coach Anne Donovan said after watching the Fever defense hold her team to 20 percent shooting and only eight points in the first quarter and 31.4 percent in the first half.
The Fever rotated nicely and blocked the Liberty's passing lanes. New York relied on a lot of one-on-one play for its scoring, getting only seven assists on 25 field goals – the fewest ever for a Fever opponent in the playoffs.
Center Tammy Sutton-Brown gave the Fever 14 points and six rebounds. Jessica Davenport came off the bench for 10 points and eight rebounds.
Katie Douglas, after going scoreless in the Fever's series-opening loss in New York, contributed 11 points and five assists.
“I was real proud of her,” Dunn said. “I know she wasn't happy with the game the other night. Tonight, she was attacking.”
Said Douglas: “Tonight, I came out with a different mindset ... to be aggressive and assertive. I just tried to get in the paint. Really, I focused on putting my head down and being aggressive.”
Now the series returns to New York, where the third-seeded Fever fell 85-73 in the opener. Pondexter scored 28 in that one, with three of her teammates also in double digits. The second-seeded Liberty shot 47.1 percent from the field (33-of-70) and 42.9 percent from the 3-point line (9-of-21).
The Fever are looking for more of Sunday night's type of performance, not a repeat of the first game. Indiana has never won a playoff series in which it didn't have home-court advantage.
“Tonight, we all came together,” said Indiana guard Tully Bevilaqua. “You could feel a presence out there. Now we have to take that back to New York.”