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Fever Pushes in to Playoff Race

by Tom Rietmann

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever saved its best stuff for the fourth quarter Friday night.

An aggressive offense and a swarming defense pushed the Fever to an 18-4 run in the quarter, and Indiana pulled out a 77-70 victory over the Washington Mystics at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It was a stirring comeback -- one that mirrors how the defending WNBA champions have rallied in general this season.

“It means a lot,” Shavonte Zellous, who led the Fever with 16 points, said about the Fever's 2013 resolve and persistence. “We've stayed together through ups and downs.”

After a 1-7, injury-plagued start this year, the Fever's triumph was the fifth in the last six games. It elevated the club's record to 6-8, which is good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and a clear signal Indiana is back in the playoff race.

On Sunday, the Fever will meet the Mystics (8-8) again in Washington. Another Indiana victory would result in a virtual tie with Washington for third place. The Fever has entered a stretch of four games in seven days, including two on the road, before next weekend's All-Star break.

Friday night's victory for Indiana was anything but artful. The Fever's shooting percentages through three quarters were 30.0, 23.8 and 41.2. After the Mystics hit 9-of-13 shots (69.2 percent) in the third quarter, Indiana began the fourth with a 62-55 deficit.

Then, suddenly, the game's complexion changed.

“I think we just came together and said, 'Look, we're not going to lose this game,' ” said Fever forward Tamika Catchings, who was held to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting.

“Everybody pulled together,” added Catchings, who drew a technical foul late in third quarter that seemed to fire up her team. “We started attacking the basket more. Everybody was more aggressive. Defensively, the intensity picked up. We moved the ball, got open shots and actually knocked them down.”

Catchings hit two fourth-quarter buckets from the key. Zellous heated up with six points after sitting out much of the second half with a thigh bruise. Zellous and Chicago's Elena Delle Donne are the only players in the league this year to reach double-figure scoring in every one of their teams' games.

The 18-4 burst in the fourth sent Indiana up, 73-68, in the final minute. For the quarter, Washington managed just eight points. The Mystics had seven turnovers in the quarter and 22 for the game.

Indiana Coach Lin Dunn pointed to that fourth-quarter defense by her team -- as well as an overall 36-34 rebounding advantage and a 22-of-23 free throw mark -- as the keys to overcoming poor field goal shooting.

A switch in fourth-quarter offensive strategy also helped.

“We started running a set that seemed to really bother them, where we were attacking,” Dunn said. “We were either getting a little layup or we were kicking it back out, reversing the ball and getting a wide-open shot. I thought the action we went to down the stretch was really good for us, and you can pretty much say we milked it to the hilt.”

Indiana's Erlana Larkins scored 12 points for her third consecutive game in double digits and grabbed nine rebounds. Briann January also scored 12 points and added four assists.

“Our defense starts our offense,” January said. “Our defense stepped up in the fourth quarter and we started rolling again -- rolling, getting some wide-open shots, penetrating, finding each other, making the extra pass -- just really playing together.”

And come Sunday, the Fever will have to do it again against the same team.

“We'll make adjustments, they'll make adjustments,” Catchings said. “We'll come out Sunday and hopefully we'll shoot a lot better.”