Fever refrain: Bring on the Dream
INDIANAPOLIS -- “We're not afraid of Atlanta. We're excited about playing them again.”
So said Indiana Coach Lin Dunn early this week. It was only moments after her Fever team eliminated New York in the WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals and advanced to a matchup with the Atlanta Dream. The best-of-three conference finals begin Thursday night in Conseco Fieldhouse.
Top-seeded Indiana went 0-4 against third-seeded Atlanta during the regular season. Dunn and her players know they'll have to answer further questions about that shortcoming this week. They're ready for those questions, and they appear ready to take on the Dream.
“We want to win a championship,” Dunn said Tuesday. “We want to get to the WNBA Finals and we want to win a championship. We have to take one step at a time, and now it's Atlanta.”
For the Fever to get past the Dream and advance to the WNBA Finals for the second time in franchise history, it's likely that certain things need to happen:
-- Indiana's players need to take care of the basketball against the Dream's withering pressure.
-- Indiana must keep the rebounding statistics relatively even.
-- And Indiana needs some continued superb play from guard Katie Douglas.
Atlanta's defense is on a roll. The Dream eliminated Connecticut, 2-0, in their conference semifinals. Connecticut failed to shoot 40 percent from the field in either game and committed a total of 31 turnovers. Atlanta totaled 22 steals.
The Dream is an “unbelievably quick team. Long. Athletic,” Dunn said. “And I think their youth is a real huge plus for them. A lot of people say young teams can't win. Well, that's ridiculous. Sometimes I think young teams don't understand they're not supposed to win.
“We have to take care of the basketball because they can be so disruptive with their length,” added Dunn, who views it as a plus that the Fever faced a similar defense against New York.
Indiana committed 19 and 17 turnovers in the last two regular-season games against Atlanta.
“Looking at the Atlanta team, they feed off turnovers,” said Fever star forward Tamika Catchings. “They run. They get out so fast. We have to be conscious of that, making sure we take care of the ball.”
But Indiana will also have to deal with Atlanta's relentless rebounding. The Dream outrebounded the Sun by a whopping 89-66 in their two games. The front line of Angel McCoughtry, Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza dominated the boards. Guard Armintie Price added seven rebounds in each game.
The Fever, in its first three regular-season games against Atlanta, kept the rebounding totals close. However, in their season-ending game -- when Indiana played without Catchings, the team's leading rebounder who sat out to rest a knee injury -- Atlanta won the boards 44-30 and grabbed 19 offensive rebounds.
Dunn said her team is ready for the challenge.
“Can you stay focused? Can you bring all of that energy you need for every second of every game? I think we have the leadership to do that,” Dunn said. “I think that's the encouraging thing for us. Atlanta's got their youth and their quickness and their speed. We have our veteran players who are mentally and physically and emotionally tough.”
One of those veterans, Douglas, has played impressively in the 2011 postseason. She described herself as “focused” and “locked in.” A continuation of that will certainly aid the Fever's push.
Dunn praised Douglas for her defense on New York's leading scorer, Cappie Pondexter, especially in the elimination game when Pondexter hit just 4-of-14 shots. The coach talked about Douglas' “basketball IQ” and how she uses angles and smarts to disrupt quicker players.
“At the same time,” Dunn said about Douglas, who is averaging 22.0 points in the 2011 postseason, “she's attacking on the offensive end. That's one of the things we wanted Katie to do better this year going into the playoffs: attack. She has the green light to take her shot whenever she's open, but don't settle (for outside shots). You're going to get great 3-pointers, but you're also going to get great lanes to the rim.
“I think that's what she has done a very good job of so far in the playoffs: getting to the rim, getting to the free throw line. That just makes her even more dangerous. She's not just making 3s. She's driving, she's scoring and she's kicking and creating for everybody else.”
As for that 0-4 mark against Atlanta, Catchings said she isn't thinking about it. She divides the WNBA season into three parts: pre-All-Star break, post-All-Star break and the playoffs.
“Whatever happened in the first two (parts) really doesn't matter,” Catchings said.
-- Atlanta's leading scorer in the 2011 playoffs is point guard Lindsey Harding with an average of 16.5 ppg. McCoughtry and de Souza are both at 14.0 ppg.
-- Fever starters Catchings, Douglas, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Erin Phillips all are averaging 30 or more minutes per game in the playoffs. Tangela Smith is averaging 29 minutes. That has meant less time for the bench players. “In crunch time,” Dunn said, “I want our five starters out there. We're still counting, though, on our bench.” Dunn said longer timeouts for televised playoff games help the starters rest.
-- Catchings and McCoughtry were teammates last fall when the United States won the gold medal in the FIBA World Championships. They also became fast friends, with the veteran Catchings helping McCoughtry, who's in her third WNBA season, with advice on how to prepare and deal with the pressures of pro basketball. “One of the things I want to do now and once I step away from the game is just be a mentor for younger players,” Catchings said. “I think there are a lot of players who come into this league who are really good but don't really know how to get the most out of what they have and the opportunity they have.”