By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- When Katie Douglas suffered an ankle injury early in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, the other Indiana Fever players knew what they had to do:
Adjust. Adapt. Deliver.
And so they have. With guard Erin Phillips and several teammates shouldering Douglas' scoring load, Indiana went on to thump Connecticut in that deciding game of the conference finals and added to its impressive, no-fear performance with a 76-70 victory at Minnesota in Sunday night's Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.
Indiana adjusted to playing without Douglas, a mainstay who was averaging 15.5 points in the playoffs. It adapted to Minnesota's defensive pressure by emphasizing, even more than usual, its screening and ball-movement attack. And the Fever delivered a series-opening victory on the road that signaled it wouldn't be cowed by playing short-handed against the defending WNBA champions.
“I just thought our focus and our approach to Game 1 was great,” Phillips said from Minneapolis on Monday. “We came in -- and there were 14,000 strong cheering on the Lynx -- and we just took it all in stride. We didn't get rattled when they made runs. We played really focused and stayed together.”
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Wednesday night at Minnesota. Expect the Lynx to come out with fire in their bellies. Indiana's players fully expect it.
“We know we're going to have to play 10 times better than we did in (Game 1),” Phillips said.
In Douglas' absence, scoring contributions from Phillips have been immense. In the close-out game at Connecticut, Phillips collected a career playoff-high 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 on 3-pointers. In the Finals opener, she had 13 points on 6-of-12 with a 3-pointer.
Phillips is hitting .511 from the field and .563 on 3-pointers with an 8.6-point average in seven 2012 playoff games. She prepared for her expanded role as a scorer by totaling 40 points in the final two regular-season games when Douglas (illness) and Briann January (concussion symptoms) sat out.
“I started building some confidence going into the playoffs,” said Phillips, who averaged 6.1 points during the regular season while often serving as a facilitator for teammates. “I think so far I've done a pretty good job of doing whatever (Coach Lin Dunn) asks of me. Whatever gets the job done and gets us a win.”
Phillips' .438 mark on 3-pointers during the regular season ranked third in the WNBA. But the operative word was efficiency as she attempted only 64 from the arc.
“I'll take a shot when I'm open and create my shot if I have to,” Phillips said. “If I have to step up and shoot it, I absolutely will.”
Often, she distributes the ball rather than shoots it. Over the last seven games of the regular season, Phillips totaled 19 assists and just six turnovers.
Others, too, have aided the Fever's playoff cause with more point production to fill in for Douglas. Shavonte Zellous totaled 18 points in the past two games. Jessica Davenport contributed 13. Jeanette Pohlen was perfect from the field, including 4-of-4 from the 3-point arc, in scoring 14 in the conference finals Game 3.
“We have so many weapons,” Phillips said. “Anybody can step up on any given night.”
In large part because of Phillips, who's from Australia, the Fever now has a superb following in parts of her native country. Erin's sister, who lives in Melbourne, keeps friends and relatives up to speed on the Indiana team. The veteran guard's nephews and nieces make sure to wear their Fever t-shirts to school and hang Fever balloons on game days.
Phillips' father Greg, a former Australian Rules Football star, is working away from the family's hometown of Adelaide this week but found a way to watch the opening Finals game. Because of the time difference, Sunday night's game at Minneapolis was played in late morning on Monday in Australia. Greg called around, found a local pub that carried the telecast and took an early lunch break to see his daughter's team beat the Lynx.
Now, with Greg being recognized as a former star athlete himself and Erin giving the WNBA Finals an Australian flavor, the pub reportedly is planning to advertise the telecast of Game 2 on Wednesday night (Thursday morning in Australia).
“It will be a bit of fun,” noted Erin, who said the word is that the pub regulars have become avid Fever fans.
Wednesday night, Indiana knows it will have to play more of the defense that held Minnesota scoreless on 12 consecutive fourth-quarter shots in Game 1. The Fever also knows it will have to turn in a better rebounding effort after surviving Sunday night's game despite getting outrebounded 38-30.
Indiana's plan for Game 2 and beyond?
“Don't relax,” Phillips said. “We definitely enjoyed the win, but this is the defending champions we're playing. They're here for a reason.”