Photo: Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images
The Fever were cruising along for the first half of the season, challenging the Shock for the best overall record in the league and topping out at 16-4 at one point. Then Catchings went down with an injury. The loss of their MVP candidate sent the Fever into a three-week free-fall that they are only now beginning to recover from. Indiana lost six straight games but managed to right the ship a bit in the final two weeks of the season and managed to win 21 games. But the momentum that the team had in the first half is certainly not as strong.
Catchings' return is the big question looming over this series. She began light exercise workouts last week and is no longer wearing the protective boot, but even if she does return for some or all of the series, the Fever may not be able to count on to be in midseason form. Her teammates must do their best to compensate for her questionable status.
Free agent acquisition Tammy Sutton-Brown was hailed as the final piece of the puzzle when she signed with the Fever, and the center did not disappoint. In an All-Star season, she averaged 12.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg and took some of the pressure off of Catchings and forward Tamika Whitmore to do all of the battling down low. Whitmore was an All-Star in 2006 and scored a postseason-record 41 points in a last year against Detroit (with Catchings injured).
Reserve guard Tan White provided a spark off the bench for the Fever and even led the team in scoring on multiple occasions in the last month of the season. Her 11.1 ppg complement the defensive-minded nature of Tully Bevilaqua and the shooting skills of starting two-guard Anna DeForge. Sheri Sam, Ebony Hoffman and K.B. Sharp give the Fever additional options, but this team is going to live and die with its core nucleus. Tamika Catchings' return to health will be the key to this team's chances in the playoffs. The Fever have only won one postseason series in franchise history, a 2005 first-round win over New York, after which they were swept by the Sun in the Eastern Conference Finals. An injury to Catching in the first round against Detroit last season resulted in another sweep.
The Sun lost to the Shock in the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago after making two straight WNBA Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005. But that recent success was not apparent in the way the Sun began their 2007 season. For a while, it looked like they might not even make it back to the playoffs at all. Connecticut spent much of the season languishing in mediocrity, unable to get consistent play from just about anyone but guard Katie Douglas and forward Asjha Jones. At the midpoint of the season, the Sun were just 6-11 and all but out of the postseason picture. They then proceeded to win 10 of their next 11 games and all but assure themselves a spot back in the postseason. Despite a meaningless loss in the last game of the season to the desperate Mystics, no team was hotter than the Sun in the second half.
Douglas was First Team All-WNBA in 2006 and followed that up with another fine season, leading the team with 16.7 points per game. Lindsay Whalen enjoyed a strong second half and finished with 13.0 ppg and climbed to second in the league in assists (5.0 apg). Gone from the Sun is veteran forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who was traded to the Sparks this past offseason. So Jones stepped up her game as Taj's replacement in the starting lineup and even made her first All-Star apperance. Her 15.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg averages are both personal bests.
Veteran forward Nykesha Sales spent part of the season fighting an injury, but got healthy at just the right time. She is back in a big way and gives the Sun yet another offensive weapon. In the final matchup against the Fever in the last week of the season, Sales poured in a career-high 32 points. Her midseason injury also opened the door for the emergence of two newcomers, rookie Evanthia Maltsi and second-year center Erika Desouza. Maltsi had been a reserve through much of the season, but stepped in to start seven games and scored in double figures in several of those games. Of course, she may be a rookie by WNBA standards, but she will be turning 29 later this year. Desouza was acquired from L.A. in the McWilliams-Franklin trade and has been getting a fair share of minutes playing behind center Margo Dydek.
Despite their early season struggles, coach Mike Thibault has his team back on track and ready to make another run deep into the postseason. Despite only being seeded third, Connecticut is peaking at the right time and no one is taking them lightly.
2007 Regular Season: Connecticut Sun 4 - Indiana Fever 0
Some fast facts about the Fever-Sun first-round matchup:
The Indiana Fever were 16-5 in games played with Catchings this season,
but only 3-8 in games played without her.
By all accounts, Sun point guard Lindsay Whalen had the best season of her career. She scored 13.2 ppg and nearly averaged five rebounds and five assists per night as well. Katie Douglas also surpassed last year's All-WNBA season and finished with a career-best 16.8 ppg.
In eight games as a starter this season, Fever guard Tan White averaged 13.5 ppg, but White was most valuable as a reserve sixth woman. On the season, she averaged 11.0 ppg.
Four score... both the Sun and Fever had four starters score in double figures this season. The Sun also had five players average more than 4.0 rebounds per game while Catchings was the only Fever player to grab more than 4.0 rebounds per contest.
Friday, June 22, Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN: Sun
78, Fever 74 | Box
Indiana Leaders: Tamika Catchings (9 pts., 12 reb.), Tamika Whitmore (15 pts., 5 reb.)
Connecticut Leaders: Katie Douglas (30 pts., 8 reb.), Lindsay Whalen (10 pts., 7 ast.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play
Friday, June 29, Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT: Sun
72, Fever 67 | Box
Indiana Leaders: Tamika Catchings (8 pts., 11 reb.), Tamika Whitmore (13 pts., 4 reb.)
Connecticut Leaders: Katie Douglas (22 pts., 5 reb.), Lindsay Whalen (14 pts., 7 ast.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play
Saturday, August 4, Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT: Sun
84, Fever 59 | Box
Indiana Leaders: K.B. Sharp (14 pts.), Tammy Sutton-Brown (9 pts., 8 reb.)
Connecticut Leaders: Katie Douglas (19 pts., 5 reb.), Margo Dydek (12 pts., 9 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play | Webcast Archive
Wednesday, August 15, Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN: Sun
77, Fever 74 | Box
Indiana Leaders: Anna DeForge (29 pts., 5 ast.), Tammy Sutton-Brown (19 pts., 10 reb.)
Connecticut Leaders: Nykesha Sales (32 pts., 4 reb.), Lindsay Whalen (17 pts., 3 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play