By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- In one brief sentence, Indiana Coach Lin Dunn summarized the staggering proportions of her Fever team's 76-59 victory over Minnesota in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.
“I thought for three quarters, we probably played as well as any Fever team I've ever seen,” said Dunn, who's in her fifth year as head coach and ninth with the club.
With just under 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Indiana led by 37 points. The Fever's unflinching style took a toll on the visiting Lynx from the opening tip on Friday night. Indiana put four players in double-figure scoring, led by Shavonte Zellous with a career playoff-high of 30.
Conversely, the Lynx had one player with double-digit points -- Rebekkah Brunson with 12. The visitors were outrebounded by Indiana, 39-30. And they were flat outhustled by the Fever.
“I thought we started out with an enormous amount of energy on the defensive end,” Dunn said. “We were locked into the things we wanted to do and the way we wanted to disrupt them. And we turned some of that disruption into transition buckets at the other end.
“I think it just set the tone from the get-go.”
Indiana, which took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, now stands on the brink of winning the first championship for an Indianapolis professional basketball team since the Pacers won in the ABA in 1973.
Game 4 is Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the Fever would like nothing better than to reward its home fans with a clinching victory. Dunn credited Friday night's sell-out crowd of 18,165 for providing plenty of help. The fans were a noisy sea of red in the stands.
“Screaming, hollering, yelling, all that red. I was getting dizzy,” Dunn said. “It was wonderful.”
Also wonderful was the play of Zellous, who took it to the Lynx from start. She hit 10-of-17 shots from the field, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
“One thing she brings to the team is the toughness,” Dunn said about Zellous, who hit the winning shot in Indiana's 78-76 victory over Connecticut in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. “She thrives in that tough, physical environment.
“I think tonight (the Lynx) were remiss in giving her some open looks early. She got into a rhythm and then it was too late.”
Zellous said she wanted to erase some holdover disappointment from Indiana's 83-71 loss at Minnesota on Wednesday.
“This game, I was really into it,” said Zellous. “Game 2 left a bad taste in my mouth. We let a game slip away from us up there. I was just focused to do whatever we needed to do to get this win tonight.”
Nearly as big as Zellous' scoring was 15 rebounds for Erlana Larkins, whose total was second in WNBA Finals history, tying the number she had in Game 1. In Wednesday's loss at Minnesota, she grabbed only five.
“I think she was a little bit embarrassed that she got shoved around a little bit in the second game in Minneapolis,” Dunn said. “We just challenged her to use her strength and use her power to get on those boards.”
Minnesota Coach Cheryl Reeve was brief in her post-game news conference.
Asked what happened, she said: “I don't have an answer.”
Queried about what it will take to extend the series with a victory on Sunday, Reeve responded: “Score more points than them.”
Scoring more points than Indiana could be difficult if the Fever continues to play the pressure defense that pushed the team to victory in Game 3.
Dunn decided to have Briann January, who made the WNBA's All-Defensive Team, defend shooting guard Seimone Augustus. Erin Phillips defended point guard Lindsay Whalen. Augustus and Whalen were held to six and seven points, respectively.
Indiana's defense also jammed Minnesota's cutters and overplayed the visitors' offensive sets.
“It thought we frustrated them a little bit early,” said Dunn, whose team forced 18 Minnesota turnovers.
Now comes Game 4 and perhaps a coveted WNBA title for Indiana.
“We have to enjoy this for the moment,” Dunn said Friday night. “When it strikes midnight tonight, let it go and refocus on Sunday.“We haven't won a championship. We've put ourselves in a position to win a championship. Now we have to do the work it takes to get that championship. It's not going to be easy.”