83 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann | September 27, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- Playing with an injury-slowed Tamika Catchings, the Indiana Fever battled headwinds from the start of Tuesday night's elimination game in the WNBA Eastern Conference Finals.
The Fever's valiant push fell short. The Atlanta Dream used a combined 49 points from Iziane Castro Marques and Angel McCoughtry, along with some withering defense, to capture an 83-67 victory. The loss shattered Indiana's hopes of returning to the WNBA Finals for the second time in three seasons.
Afterward, Fever Coach Lin Dunn preferred to look at her team's body of work during 2011 and not just the final game. Indiana finished the regular season as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, even after a knee injury ended point guard Briann January's year after just 10 games.
“I thought we showed a lot of what I call true grit to accomplish what we accomplished,” Dunn said. “I'm going to hang our hat on the fact we won the regular-season championship and we played as well as we did to get where we were.”
The defeat Tuesday night marked the first time in franchise history the Fever lost a playoff series as the higher-seeded team. The Fever also fell for the first time in six elimination games at Conseco Fieldhouse.
“It's definitely a low point right now,” said Katie Douglas, who led the Fever with 16 points with nine rebounds.
For Tammy Sutton-Brown, who had 11 points and nine rebounds, it was a nagging feeling.
“I really think I'm going to wake up in a few minutes and the game's going to start,” she said. “It's not one of those things you expect. We definitely expected to be playing after tonight. It was a tough loss to handle.”
McCoughtry scored 26 for Atlanta and Castro Marques had 23. They combined for 57 points two days earlier in Game 2 at Atlanta.
The Dream staged an 18-4 run in the third quarter that put the Fever in a 57-39 hole. Indiana committed seven turnovers in the third quarter and 18 for the game.
“I thought they took their defense up a notch,” Dunn said about the Dream. “I didn't think we matched their level of intensity to start the second half.”
The Dream heads into a WNBA Finals matchup against Minnesota having won 21 of 27 games after a 3-9 start this season. Tuesday night, Atlanta used its quickness to keep Indiana off-balance. The Dream also hit 21-of-33 free throws to the Fever's 7-of-11.
“You can't overcome 33 free throws. That's really tough,” Dunn said.
“It was crazy physical,” Douglas said about the game.
Catchings suffered a foot injury in Game 2 and had to be carried off the floor. Her availability Tuesday night was uncertain until just before tipoff. She came off the bench, totaling six points and five rebounds in 24 minutes.
“She brought us energy, she brought us leadership,” Dunn said. “She's a warrior.”
For the Fever, it was a painful ending to a superb year. For Catchings, however, it wasn't as disappointing as 2010, when the Fever struggled late in the year and then suffered elimination in the first round to the New York Liberty.
“Last year, I was really beyond disappointed, just sick,” said Catchings, who was the league's MVP in 2011. “This year, I'm disappointed, not sick, but disappointed. (It's) knowing how hard we worked as a team, knowing all the stuff we've been through but being able to stick together. When you look at what we accomplished as a team, you see the character.”
As the Fever team does after any season, it will make a few changes in the coming months. However, Dunn indicated there won't be anything resembling a complete makeover. Douglas, Catchings, Sutton-Brown and forward Tan Smith all are 32 or older.
“I certainly think that we have a roster that can challenge for a WNBA championship,” Dunn said. “I certainly don't think the window is closed. We feel like we have a lot of pieces.”