78 at Seattle
By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever thumped the defending WNBA champions on Tuesday night thanks to formidable defense, consistent offense and some heady play from a pair of point guards.
Those point guards answered any questions that existed in the wake of a knee injury that has sidelined veteran Briann January for the year. Erin Phillips and Shannon Bobbitt shared the point and handled the position adeptly, combining for 15 points, six assists and four steals in the Fever's rousing 78-61 victory over the Seattle Storm at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Phillips, who started in January's place, and Bobbitt off the bench were major factors as Eastern Conference-leading Indiana lifted its record to 8-3 and extended its winning streak to five in a row.
“Erin and Bobbitt both did a great job for us, and we're going to continue to ride that wave and get ready for Washington,” Fever forward Tamika Catchings said, looking ahead to Saturday night's home game. “The biggest thing we need from them is just to be steady.”
And steady they were.
“We want them to play their game,” Fever guard Katie Douglas said, “and play to their strengths. I think they did that tonight. We need them to be the floor generals out there. Both are high energy. We have the utmost confidence in them.”
One of the point guards' most important statistics was three turnovers on a night the Fever committed only 14. Indiana coach Lin Dunn credited Phillips and Bobbitt with “sticking to the game plan” against a Seattle team that was playing without injured star Lauren Jackson at center.
“Both of them really understood what we wanted to do,” Dunn said. “If we couldn't score early, then we wanted to work to get the ball inside, in the low paint … because they are smaller without Jackson.”
Dunn took a moment after the game to address again the loss of January, who helped her teammates Tuesday night as she sat next to the coaches on the Fever bench.
“It's our first game without Briann,” Dunn said. “It's a tough night. It's a tough night for her, it's a tough night for us. I'm used to seeing her out there warming up. I'm used to seeing her energy on the court. It's a learning experience for all of us.
“But as I said early in the week: We have a lot of confidence in Phillips, and we have a lot of confidence in Bobbitt. And we have confidence in our veteran players that they'll support those two and help them get comfortable during this period of time.”
Phillips, with a red welt under one eye, showed the effects of a physical game against Seattle. Starting her first WNBA game since 2009, Phillips said she had to deal with a few early “butterflies.”
“I have great teammates around me; I have superstars around me,” said the native Australian. “Having them help me and encourage me makes it so much easier. When they have confidence in you, you can't help but have confidence in yourself.”
Bobbitt, who won a pair of national titles at the University of Tennessee, showed her confidence, too.
“It was my time,” she said. “I had an opportunity and I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Indiana's defense held the Storm to 43.1 percent shooting (25-of-58) and forced 20 turnovers. Guard Sue Bird scored a game-high 21, but only one other Seattle player (Swin Cash with 13) reached double-digit points. The Fever also totaled 11 steals, led by Catchings with four.
Douglas, Indiana's top scorer this year, was held to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting. Nobody worried, however, as Jessica Davenport contributed 15 points, Catchings had 11 and Tangela Smith added 10.
“To have a team that's going to win a championship for us, it can't be one or two players,” Catchings said. “The last couple of years we've talked about having a balanced scoring attack. It seems like every game we're getting there.”
Said Dunn: “The good news is, we have more than just Katie. We have other people on the perimeter who can score. What I like about this team is we're getting a lot of help from a lot of different people.”
To her point, nine different players scored at least five points.
Indiana's bench players did their part again, scoring 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, compared to just seven points on 3-of-16 for Seattle's reserves. The Fever's reserves have scored 24-plus points in eight of the last nine games.
Shavonte Zellous played 17 minutes off the bench and totaled eight points and three assists while turning in some harassing defense. She had seven points in an 18-7 Indiana run that blew open a six-point game in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we got a great effort out of our bench,” Dunn said. “Once again, they gave us a spark. I can't say enough about Zellous' defense in the second half.”