Phillips Back and Gearing Up for Playoffs

By Tom Rietmann | September 9, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- Erin Phillips grew up watching her father, Greg, play in nearly a decade of championships in Australian Rules Football. The Indiana Fever guard saw what the playoffs meant to him and tried to absorb and use some of that same competitive zeal in her professional basketball career.

“I was very fortunate to have watched my dad play,” Phillips said. “I understand the culture of playing in finals and winning championships. I've always loved that time of the year. It's what you play for in sport. Records don't matter once you're in. It's an even ball game.

“I just love the energy, the atmosphere, the extra pressure you have on yourself and what the team has.”

Phillips, who has missed 16 Indiana games with injuries this season, expects to be back in action and going at full throttle this week. She's thankful. And excited.

This is clearly Phillips' favorite time of year. The WNBA playoffs loom only a week away, and the Fever team is battling for postseason positioning as it tries to defend its 2012 league championship.

Indiana will host Washington on Tuesday night, and a Fever victory would lock up the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference. With games remaining Friday against New York and Sunday at Connecticut, Indiana still has a slim chance of moving up one more position and getting home-court advantage in the first round.

For the Fever, it's significant to have Phillips back from a knee injury that kept her out earlier this year and an eye injury that forced her to miss the last two games. She's one of the club's top 3-point shooters. Her spot-up jumpers keep her defenders honest -- and prevent them from double-teaming against Tamika Catchings or Erlana Larkins in the paint.

“We want Erin to spread the floor,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said.

Phillips' play in last year's playoffs definitely spread the floor and provided a vital lift in Indiana's title run. She averaged 10.1 points and scored in double digits in seven of the Fever's 10 postseason games. She connected on 15-of-29 3-pointers (51.7 percent) to set a club record.

Phillips hit 7-of-15 treys in the Finals series against Minnesota. When the Fever closed out the Lynx in Game 4, Phillips produced career playoff highs of 18 points and eight rebounds.

“I knew it was the Finals and it was exciting, but I didn't feel nervous,” said the 5-foot-8 Australia native. “A big part of the reason, I think, is because of how close this team is. We were so in tune with each other, in such a rhythm. No distractions were going to get in the way of the high level we were playing at.”

Indiana hopes to recapture that rhythm for the 2013 playoffs. It won't be easy for a team that has seen nine players suffer injuries leading to 107.5 lost games.

Phillips, averaging 6.5 points in her limited 2013 playing time, says her knee is at its best of the season and her vision is back to normal. Atlanta's Armintie Price inadvertently poked the Fever guard in the eye when going for the ball in a game on Sept. 4.

“(Dealing with the injuries) has taught me patience, which I don't really have,” Phillips said, describing her challenging season. “But now I have some, because I've had to. I'm hopeful that this is the last of the bad kind of luck.”

Decisions Loom with Playoffs Near

The Fever clinched its ninth consecutive playoff berth with last Saturday's victory over Connecticut. Now, with the three regular-season games left before the playoffs start on an undetermined date early next week, Dunn wants the team to gain the best seed possible, but she must be vigilant not to wear out the top players.

“We just want to continue to play at a high level, try to get momentum going into the playoffs. We're going to do everything within our power to win these last three games, but (also) just take one game at a time,” the coach said.

For Catchings, heading into her 10th year of playoffs with Indiana, the excitement is building.

“I don't know what's going to happen in the next three (regular-season) games as far as playing minutes,” said Catchings, the Fever's top scorer at 17.6 points. “But I know whoever is on the court, we're going to play hard, play smart, play together and continue to try to build on what we want to do.

“Now the fun begins. We're a week away from going into the playoffs. We just want to continue to get better.”