|Indiana's Anna DeForge leads the WNBA in scoring during the playoffs with 25.0 points per game on 57 percent shootng.|
|Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images|
Sure, Indiana stood atop the Eastern Conference standings at 16-4 before Catchings suffered a plantar fascia tear in her left foot on July 20. The Fever lost that night and dropped their next five straight games as well. They went 5-8 without her in the lineup to close the season and dropped from the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs to the second seed, which cost them home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit.
So, how could this possibly help the team? It forced the rest of the Fever players to step up their play in order to fill the large shoes (16.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.1 blocks a night) left behind by the MVP candidate.
“That’s one of the things that we talked about when I did go out, is somebody has to step up, and not just one person, people have to step up in every facet of the game,” Catchings said. “It’s not like scoring is the only thing that I did. Scoring, rebounding, assists, defense and intensity on the court, all of those things came into play.”
Enter shooting guard Anna DeForge. The All-Star starter averaged 7.6 points per game prior to Catchings’ injury and steadily elevated her scoring as the regular season came to a close, including a season-high 29-point performance against Connecticut in the final week.
As the playoffs began last week, though, the buzz around the Fever centered on Catchings’ return to the lineup and how effective she would be in her first games back from the foot injury -- if she were able to play at all.
After Indiana’s classic triple-overtime Game 1 against Connecticut, the buzz shifted back to DeForge, who equaled her career-high with 31 points and hit clutch 3-pointers at the end of regulation and at the end of the first overtime to keep the Fever alive, although the Sun did prevail in the end.
DeForge continued to burn up the nets in Indiana’s Game 2 rout of the Sun, scoring a team-high 26 points in just 28 minutes of play. In the series-deciding Game 3, DeForge chipped in 18 points to help the Fever get past their nemesis and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. After the first round of postseason play, DeForge leads the league in scoring at 25.0 points a game and is shooting a blistering 57 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range.
“My confidence is high right now,” DeForge said. “I’m just in such a good rhythm right now and I’m being aggressive. I’m doing what I need to be doing in order for this team to be successful. I’m not doing anything out of context. I am shooting a very good percentage and I hope it stays that way.”
DeForge is not the only player that has raised her game for Indiana. Tamika Whitmore is averaging 20 points per game in the playoffs, which is nearly double her regular season average. Indiana also received strong contributions from Sheri Sam and Tully Bevilaqua in the first round.
“What you’re seeing now with this entire team, not just me individually, is the work we put in when we didn’t have Tamika in our lineup,” DeForge said. “A lot of people, including myself, stepped up in her absence. Right now we share the same mentality in this locker room. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing on the court or if you’re sitting on the bench, we just have a complete and utter belief in each other and we have an aggressive mentality and we know we can get it done.”
Catchings, who is averaging 19.7 points and 15.3 rebounds in the playoffs, has been impressed by DeForge’s play both during her absence and now that she has returned.
“One of the things we look for Anna to do is score and she finally stepped up,” Catchings said. “She is a great shooter and she has the confidence from all of us. I told her, ‘When you’re open, or you think you can get open, shoot those shots. I’d rather you shoot and miss than we turn it over and not get a shot off at all.’
“And once she started hitting those shots, her confidence has gone sky high and I just tell her, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. Just because I’m back, don’t stop shooting the ball the way that you know you can shoot. I’m going to keep riding with it too. As long as you’re scoring, I’m going to keep trying to get you the ball.’”
Catchings had hoped to return to the Fever lineup prior to the playoffs in order to test her foot and get back into a rhythm with her teammates. While her foot would not allow that to happen, Catchings found she quickly regained the chemistry with her teammates, which was no surprise to DeForge.
“When someone of her caliber comes back, there’s going to be no interruption of flow,” DeForge said. “She’s just too good in every aspect of this game, whether it be things that you don’t see on the stat sheet like defensive help or distracting somebody or matchup problems that she creates.
“Of course you see the points, you see the rebounds, you see the assists, you see the steals all the time, but when someone of her caliber comes back, there’s never going to be a grace period for a team.”
DeForge and her teammates have continued to play at the high level they were at prior to Catchings’ return from injury, which helped propel Indiana past Connecticut in the first round of the playoffs.
“This is the playoffs and we’re not going to win with just Tamika,” DeForge said. “And everybody knows that, even Tamika. As far as the people around her, we’ve each taken our game up another level to get to our goal, and that’s to win a WNBA championship.”