INDIANAPOLIS(AP) Tamika Catchings went down after being fouled hard in the third quarter, and her teammates and more than 9,000 Indiana Fever fans waited in stunned silence to see if she'd recover.
Two years ago, the Fever were in the decisive Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals - also against the Detroit Shock - when Catchings went down with a torn right Achilles' tendon. A competitive game turned into a blowout, and Detroit cruised into the WNBA finals.
In Game 2 of the East Finals on Friday night, Catchings was sprawled on the ground for several minutes with trainers around her. This time, she got up and made Detroit pay.
Catchings scored 22 points, and the Fever avoided elimination with a 79-75 win, forcing a decisive Game 3 at Conseco Fieldhouse on Saturday night.
Catchings said her neck already was hurting before she was hit with 3:06 left in the third quarter. The foul on the play was charged to Alexis Hornbuckle.
Catchings felt the contact was excessive.
"It is what it is,'' she said. "That's what they do. They come in and play a physical game and you have to be ready for it. You have to deal with it and kind of move on.''
Her teammates who had been with her through the previous injury were worried.
"Not again,'' forward Ebony Hoffman said. "Not again. She's done so good this year being injury free, being in every single game. That was hurting my heart at the second.''
Catchings not only got up, she never left the game. She dusted herself off and made one of two free throws to cut Detroit's lead to 50-49. On Detroit's next possession, Catchings stole a pass, then found an open Briann January for a 3-pointer that gave the Fever a 52-50 lead.
Indiana never trailed again.
"She came back,'' Hoffman said. "Tears in her eyes and all, she came back rolling. You know if 'Mik has a tear in her eye, it must have hurt.''
Indiana outscored Detroit 31-25 after Catchings went down.
"She got up, the crowd erupted,'' Hoffman said. "We were like, 'We've got to get this done.'''
Catchings, who earlier in the day was named the league's defensive player of the year, also had nine rebounds, six steals and five assists.
Now, the Fever will have a chance to play for a spot in the WNBA finals, and an Indiana legend is trying to help them pack the home arena. Pacers Sports and Entertainment president Larry Bird has purchased the entire balcony - 9,000 seats - for Saturday's game. Free tickets will be available for Fever fans starting at 10 a.m., with a maximum of eight per person.
Katie Douglas added 14 points and five steals for the Fever, who will host the decisive Game 3 against the defending champions on Saturday night.
Deanna Nolan led Detroit with 23 points and Shavonte Zellous added 19 points and nine rebounds.
Indiana set a postseason record with 18 steals and scored 28 points off Detroit's 24 turnovers.
"Turnovers hurt us,'' Nolan said. "We live and die by turnovers, and you saw the results. We were not patient enough.''
Indiana's defensive effort made up for Detroit's 48-37 rebounding edge.
Indiana led 39-38 at halftime. The Fever set a league playoff record for steals in a half with 12, and Catchings set a postseason record for steals in a half with five. The Shock made up for it by outrebounding the Fever 27-16 in the first half.
The rebounding disparity nearly cost the top-seeded Fever their season.
"We discussed it every timeout, at halftime, amongst each other at free throws,'' Hoffman said. "That was the major discussion.''
Detroit dominated the boards overall, but Indiana won the rebounding matchup 13-12 in the fourth quarter. Detroit coach Rick Mahorn didn't like the way his team closed the game.
"It doesn't feel good to lose,'' he said. "We're going to watch film and make adjustments.''
Indiana now can change its history. Detroit has eliminated the Fever from the playoffs the past three years, and the Fever have never reached the WNBA finals.
"We've been here before,'' Catchings said. "They've been in this situation before, they've beaten us in this situation before. We have to do what we did tonight tomorrow night.''