Even in defeat, it’s hard to understate what the Indiana Fever accomplished during the 2015 season. Their resiliency turned skeptics into believers as they put together one of the more remarkable postseason runs in recent history.
Six elimination games. Six times they entered a postseason game with their backs against the wall, and five times they prevailed.
Before that point, however, there was a regular season full of peaks and valleys. The Fever struggled out of the gates and started 3-6. Slowly but surely, things started to turn around and by the All-Star break, the Fever were surging.
Indiana won nine of 10 games after the All-Star break and moved to within a game of first place. As first-year head coach Stephanie White’s squad got healthier, the Fever showed flashes of the brilliance they would soon display in the postseason.
And at the heart of it all was Tamika Catchings. One of the league’s all-time greatest players continued to be the on-court and off-the-court leader for Indiana. She invigorated a locker room full of young players united behind a goal of winning another title for Catchings, who plans to retire at the end of the 2016 WNBA season.
“Tamika is special,” White said after the Fever’s Game 5 loss. “She’s just she’s really special. She has accomplished everything and everything that you can accomplish in women’s basketball, and I felt like this year was probably, in my opinion, her greatest accomplishment because of the way she got her teammates to elevate their play. The way she made them better, the way she empowered them, the way she sort of — you know, like a mom would do — pushed them along and then handed over the reins, in a sense.”
To open the playoffs, Indiana was pitted against the 2015 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky. After a Game 1 loss, Indiana returned home to Bankers Life Fieldhouse and forced a decisive Game 3 on the road in Chicago.
Dominant play from Catchings coupled with big shots by forward Marissa Coleman gave Indiana the series win and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals. Their next foe? The No. 1 overall-seeded New York Liberty.
The Liberty took Game 1, and Indiana once again returned home to try and force a third game. In front of a raucous crowd, the Liberty weren’t fazed and stormed out to an 18-point lead. But in the second half, it was all Indiana. Marissa Coleman delivered again, hitting two big threes down the stretch to give Indiana the 70-64 win.
In Game 3, it was more of the same. The Fever suffocated the Liberty and scheduled a rematch of the 2012 WNBA Finals against the Minnesota Lynx.
In the Finals, the Fever fought tooth and nail throughout the series and utilized every weapon they could in their quest to win a second WNBA title.
It just wasn’t enough.
After pushing the series to a decisive Game 5, Minnesota took advantage of Indiana’s mistakes and coasted to a double-digit win to take home the 2015 WNBA title. After the game, White noted that fatigue likely played a factor in Indiana’s performance.
“Mental, emotional fatigue, as well as physical,” White said. “We exerted a lot of emotion. We played every possible game in every series, and each one of those has been highly charged emotionally. So I think back ‑‑ I don’t remember what game it was where I felt like we had a sugar crash, and it felt a little bit like that today.”
Despite the loss, the Indiana Fever were worthy adversaries to the Minnesota Lynx. They pushed the champs, a team with five U.S. Olympians, to the limit and gave themselves an opportunity to claim WNBA glory.
And above all, they were a joy to watch. From Catchings to Shenise Johnson to Coleman to Briann January, the Indiana Fever were the lovable underdogs in every playoff series, and yet every time they were knocked down, they managed to pick themselves up off the mat and keep fighting.
The sting of Wednesday’s loss will linger for some time, to be sure. But the lessons learned from their 2015 journey will serve White and the rest of her team well moving forward.