Indianapolis — The No. 5 Indiana Fever suffered an 89-78 first round exit to the No. 8 Phoenix Mercury on Wednesday night at an emotional Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana held a lead late in the third quarter of Tamika Catchings’ final game, but the Fever were the victim of a 10-2 Phoenix run to open the fourth quarter and seal the win.
Phoenix shot 54.5 percent compared to just 37.2 percent for Indiana, including just 4-for-21 from 3-point range. The Fever won the turnover and rebounding battle, but couldn’t keep up with the sharpshooting Mercury.
“I’m really proud of our team,” Fever Head Coach Stephanie White said. “We fought, we clawed and our players did exactly what we asked them to do. We just came out on the losing end.”
With 13.1 seconds left, Coach White attempted to sub out Catchings and give her one last standing ovation. Catchings waved off White’s effort for the applause, opting to play out her final 13.1. She came down on the last possession and hustled for an offensive rebound, her 10th of the game, and one last double-double.
“I just wanted to play,” Catchings said. “I wanted to finish strong, and finish the race that God put me on.”
Catchings finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and a trio of steals in her final WNBA appearance. It was her 27th playoff double-double; nine more than Lisa Leslie, and more than double anyone else in league history.
Marissa Coleman scored 13 points while Briann January and Erlana Larkins notched 12 apiece. January also tossed a playoff career-high nine assists in the game. Erica Wheeler was the fourth Fever player in double figures with 10 points.
Diana Taurasi scored a game-high 20 points, including three 3-pointers and a 9-for-9 night from the free-throw line. Brittney Griner added 18 points and nine rebounds on a 7-for-11 night from the floor while DeWanna Bonner chipped in 18 points as well.
Indiana used four first quarter steals to frustrate the Phoenix offense early on. Neither team led by more than five points through the game’s first 18:23. As soon as Indiana nabbed a seven-point edge, Phoenix scored the last four points of the half to rope the lead back to three (38-35). Catchings and Griner each led their teams with eight points at the break.
The Mercury snagged a brief 45-44 lead less than three minutes into the third quarter, but relinquished it to Indiana after a 6-1 Fever run. The teeter-totter trend continued with four more lead changes in the third period and a 59-57 advantage for the Mercury going to the fourth.
Back-to-back 3-point plays from Bonner and Griner lifted Phoenix to a 10-point cushion (69-59) with exactly 7:00 left in the game.
Coleman answered with an and-one of her own on the opposite end, but a pair of turnovers handed Phoenix an 11-point lead (75-64) with just over four minutes to play.
The Fever cut the lead as narrow as three (77-74) behind some emotional and desperate defense from Catchings and January, but it wasn’t enough to stop Phoenix from scoring 30 fourth-quarter points and taking the game.
“We were fighting to win,” January said. “We have the weapons. That’s a lot of time left for us to come back. A couple shots didn’t fall, we made some mistakes, but we kept fighting.”
Indiana ends the season 17-18 following the loss. Phoenix, now also 17-18, will move on to face New York in the second round. Despite the first-round exit, the Fever have made 12 consecutive playoff appearances, extending their WNBA record.
“It was emotional, but this is a franchise built on toughness,” White said. “This is a franchise that has withstood a lot and will continue to be a great franchise. And those players in the locker room are why.”
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The Fever say goodbye to both Catchings and Coach White on Wednesday night. White will transition to her new head coaching job at Vanderbilt while Catchings expects to take some time for her husband and family.
“Even when you’re not physically here, it doesn’t mean you’re not part of this organization,” White added. “We’re a family. This is a high character, high class organization. Even when you’re gone, you’re still a part of the family.”
“I’m going to miss my teammates,” Catchings said. “You know, wins and losses, they happen, and it sucks to be on the losing end, but more than anything I’m going to miss the good times we’ve had and the fun that we’ve had.”