75 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann | September 28, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana's rousing comeback fell short. The Fever players excavated a hole that was too deep. A statistics sheet loaded with ruinous numbers ultimately did them in.
The Atlanta Dream dumped the Fever, 75-66, in Friday night's opening game of their best-of-three semifinal series in the WNBA Eastern Conference playoffs. Poor 3-point shooting (3-of-13) hurt the Fever. Yielding too many easy points in the paint (44) also impaired Indiana.
But the most damaging stat of all was rebounds.
“They hurt us so bad on the boards,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said. “When you get beat on the boards 40-29 by a team like that, it's really going to be tough.”
And it likely won't get easier on Sunday.
Indiana is forced to move into survival mode as it heads to Atlanta for Game 2. The Fever club, seeded No. 2 in the conference, isn't concerned about what might be said around the league after its loss to the third-seeded Dream. Indiana is focused only on advancing the series to a third game in Indianapolis on Tuesday.
“We don't need people on our bandwagon,” said guard Katie Douglas, who led Indiana with 13 points. “We just need the 11 people in the locker room and the coaches. … We just need the 11 women to go (to Atlanta) with more of a sense of urgency, more confident.”
Atlanta led by double digits through much of the first three quarters and opened a 16-point bulge with 6:27 left in the game. That's when Briann January returned to the Indiana lineup after suffering an upper-body injury that floored her for several minutes late in the first half. No foul was called.
“I can only tell you what I thought happened to her,” Dunn said about January's injury. “We trapped Angel McCoughtry, and she slung her elbows right and left to get out of the trap and hit Bri in the chest with -- I don't know how to say it -- a knockout punch.”
But January's fourth-quarter reappearance seemed to inject life into the Fever. Indiana went on a 13-0 run, slicing a 67-51 deficit to three points at 67-64. January contributed four points in the push. Erin Phillips had five.
“Our intensity, our energy, our communication picked up,” Phillips said. “We hit a couple of big shots and it was a spark for us.”
Added Dunn about the final quarter: “We looked like the Fever team that I recognize.”
The rally ended, however, when Lindsey Harding connected on six straight points for Atlanta in the final 1:10. Harding led the Dream with 23 points. McCoughtry scored 16.
The 44 points in the paint surrendered by the Fever was an opponent season high.
“You have to anticipate a little better,” Dunn said about her team's defense, “and you have to do a better job of closing off the baseline.”
Indiana, which tied for the WNBA lead with a .400 regular-season mark from 3-point range, never looked comfortable on its way to a .231 number against Atlanta. Douglas went 1-of-5 on treys. Tamika Catchings was 0-of-2.
“Tamika and I, as soon as we caught the ball, we were seeing traffic,” Douglas said. “(Atlanta was) just making it very difficult for us to get any kind of clean looks.”
Atlanta, which has advanced to the league finals each of the past two years, won its opening game on the road for a fifth straight time in Eastern Conference playoff series. Indiana knows the Dream will be ready again on Sunday.
“It's gut check,” said Catchings, whose 10 points and 11 rebounds gave her a double-double for the 19th time in 38 postseason games.