#Fever15 Moments: First Playoff Berth in Franchise HistoryTweet
The Date: August 13, 2002
The Fever never really contended for a playoff spot in their first two WNBA seasons, but that all changed in 2002. That year, rookie Tamika Catchings took the league by storm and helped lead the Fever to their first postseason berth in franchise history.
Catchings was dominant in her debut season, leading the Fever in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. She finished in the top 10 in the entire WNBA in all five categories, was named Rookie of the Year, and finished as runner-up in both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year voting.
Catchings didn't carry the Fever single-handedly. Fellow University of Tennessee graduate Nikki McCray averaged 11.5 points per game, while Olympia Scott contributed 9.4 points and 6.8 rebounds.
But the move that put Indiana over the top was trading for Coquese Washington in the latter half of the season. In 11 regular season games with the Fever, Washington averaged 7.3 points and shot 45 percent from 3-point range. The Fever went 8-3 after adding Washington to surge into playoff contention.
The Eastern Conference was remarkably competitive in 2002. The top six teams wound up finishing within three games of each other. Indiana put itself in position to make the postseason with a win on the final day of the regular season. The Fever did just that, coming away with a 60-56 win at Cleveland on Aug. 13 to clinch the first playoff birth in franchise history.
In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Fever met up with the top-seeded New York Liberty. Due to the format used at the time, the Fever actually hosted Game 1 in Indianapolis. Catchings was officially named Rookie of the Year earlier in the day, and celebrated in style.
Catchings started the game on fire, making 6-of-8 shots, including three 3-pointers, and scoring 18 first-half points. Catchings finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds and Washington chipped in 13 as Indiana rolled to a 73-55 victory.
The series then shifted back to New York for the final two games. Catchings had another double-double in Game 2 (20 points and 14 rebounds) and Kelly Schumacher had 17 points off the bench, but New York pulled away in the second half for an 84-65 victory.
The Fever looked poise for an upset in Game 3, racing out to a 17-2 lead at the start of the game, but the Liberty slowly climbed back into the game and seized control in the second half, coming away with a 75-60 victory. Nikki MCray led four Fever players in double figures with 14 points, but Indiana was unable to overcome 21 turnovers.
The Fever would miss the playoffs the next two years, but have since made eight consecutive postseason appearances. Each of those teams made its own set of memories, but there's a special mystique to the 2002 squad — because they were the first. and advance to the conference finals, but the Fever exited the postseason with their heads held high, having given the franchise its first taste of postseason play.
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