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It's back to the playoffs for Indiana

By Tom Rietmann | September 7, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- Injuries riddled the team's roster from opening day. A harrowing 1-7 start unsettled the players. But the Indiana Fever kept pushing and persevering, and now that refusal to fold has landed them exactly where they want to be.

In the WNBA playoffs.

Indiana locked up its ninth consecutive postseason berth Saturday night with a hard-earned 69-60 victory over the Connecticut Sun at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The triumph, Indiana's third in the last four games, put the team at 15-16 and in sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference with three regular-season games remaining.

It's been a difficult year, to be sure, for the WNBA's defending champions. But because of how they proved their mettle and resolve week after week, it also has turned into a satisfying year.

“It always makes a coach happy to see players overcome adversity,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said. “A lot of people, a lot of players, a lot of teams can't handle adversity. This team has an enormous character. They're tough-minded and they're relentless in their pursuit to get better.

“That's who we are. It's our identity. It's our core values. We're never going to give up.”

Chalk up Saturday night's victory to a team effort. Four Indiana players scored in double figures, led by Tamika Catchings' 15 points. The Fever held the Sun to 37.5 percent shooting (24-of-64).

“Look at all the things we've had to deal with adversity-wise -- ups and downs, injuries -- to clinch a playoff spot tonight,” Catchings said. “It's ... a relief.

“That's one thing we said, you just have to make it to the playoffs. Once you get to the playoffs, it's a whole new season. We have three more games to focus on, and I'd like to see us go into the playoffs rolling and on a winning streak.”

A streak of injuries beset Indiana from the outset in 2013. Nine different Fever players have missed a total of 107.5 games.

But from that bad news came some good: The Fever brought in Jessica Breland as a replacement player when injuries began to mount. Now Breland is one of the club's top players off the bench.

Breland totaled 12 points and nine rebounds against the Sun. She and Erlana Larkins combined for 14 points and eight rebounds in the fourth quarter as Indiana took over a close game. Breland played so well in the fourth that Catchings, the team's perennial All-Star forward, could rest the entire quarter.

Said Catchings about her sub: “J.B.'s energy -- it's good, it's valuable and that's what we need from her.”

Breland sat out the 2012 season after getting waived by Washington. She worked on her stamina and strength, vowing to return to the WNBA. She made it back to become a consistent scorer and rebounder for an Indiana team in search of a reliable backup for Catchings.

“(Breland) has gotten real comfortable in our system,” Dunn said. “She can score around the basket. She can hit the 15-footer.”

Breland's rebound basket and free throw pushed Indiana's lead to 11 points, 65-54, with 3:12 left. A Fever team that won in Chicago on Friday night -- and didn't get home until 4 a.m. after a bus breakdown -- was proving again it had the right stuff to hang on for a playoff-clinching victory.

In the locker room afterward, Breland wore a big smile.

“I'm just more confident,” she said, describing her progress since early in the season. “I think I'm a better person and player by just being around these great women and having Lin as a coach. (Dunn) is always encouraging me to get tougher. I feel like I have gotten tougher, and I feel like I've grown as a player just being here.”