MINNEAPOLIS – Any team that makes the WNBA Finals is sure to be chock full of players who can step up on any given night. On Sunday afternoon, it was Indiana Fever guard Briann January’s turn.
January scored 19 points – a season high – and led the Fever to a 75-69 victory over the Minnesota Lynx in Game 1 of WNBA Finals 2015 presented by Boost Mobile. The crafty guard showcased her entire skillset during the series opener, dishing out six assists to go along with two steals.
The first-team All-Defensive Team member’s defensive intensity fueled Indiana at times, as it has throughout the season. But when it mattered most, it was her ability to hit big shots that was of utmost importance.
“I can’t say enough about the way she played tonight,” Catchings said of her point guard. “Just having that intensity, especially down the stretch when they came and they got a lead. It was like, ‘Everybody calm down for a second.’ And being able to run the play and execute the play, getting what we want. When she wasn’t getting a layup, she was getting a jumpshot. And then she went out on D taking over where she left off.”
Her performance was nothing out of the ordinary at this point. January was a member of the Fever’s 2012 championship team, so neither the stage nor the hostile environment was too big for her. As the Lynx and Fever traded blows in the second half, January either found the open teammate or hit a big shot.
“We had a couple of possessions that were empty,” January said, “and we weren’t really running anything. But we just needed to stay composed and run some things and really execute, and that’s what we did down the stretch. [Erlana Larkins] set some great screens, we had some great movement on the weakside and we were able to get what we wanted.”
Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve has had to gameplan for January plenty of times throughout her coaching career. She says the performance January displayed Sunday afternoon was just a matter of January being January.
“Obviously, the older you get, the more experience you have under your belt,” Reeve said. “I thought [January] played great tonight. Again, the action they put her in, that’s a key focal point of what they do at the point of the offense.
“I thought she played great tonight. Again, the action [Indiana] put her in, that’s a key focal point of what they do at the point of the offense. I see that ‑‑ the older you get, there’s not many surprises in the way that you’re being guarded. So what Briann does a great job of is reading what’s open. If the big over-helps, then she pocket passes to the post. If the big is too far back, she shoots a pull‑up jumper.”
Fever head coach Stephanie White says January’s play has heightened as of late, and Sunday’s performance was exhibit A.
“She’s just playing with a different poise,” White said, “and she’s playing at a different pace, and she’s reading her options and understanding and knowing when to take her shot, when to attack the rim, when to find her teammates. It’s been her growth process. I thought she was, again, exceptional.”