Game Recap: Fever 70, Liberty 64 (Game 2)

Fever vs Liberty

September 27, 2015 – Fever forward Tamika Catchings dropped 25 points to lead the Fever to a Game 2 win and force a winner-take-all third game.

Fever Even Series With Memorable Rally Vs. Liberty

INDIANAPOLIS – Just before her Indiana Fever team left the locker room for Sunday’s second half, Coach Stephanie White conveyed a message that was forceful and unambiguous.

“I just challenged them to play like we’re fighting for something,” White said. “I just challenged them and said whoever wants to fight, come on out. Whoever doesn’t, stay in the locker room.”

The Fever took it to heart and came out in full-attack mode. A strong second half – and a downright awesome fourth quarter – entirely shifted momentum against the New York Liberty and Indiana prevailed in a 70-64 outcome at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

It evened the WNBA Eastern Conference Finals at 1-1 and sends the series back to New York for Tuesday’s deciding Game 3.

PHOTO GALLERY: Fever 70, Liberty 64 (Game 2) »

But it wouldn’t have happened for Indiana, which trailed by 18 late in the first half, without the grit and determination that White demanded. The Fever righted themselves to produce the second-largest comeback in franchise postseason history, supported every rousing minute of the way by a crowd of 7,505.

“We knew we had time left and we just stayed together,” Fever guard Briann January said. “It was a powerful feeling today. I don’t know if I’ve felt that before.”

Indiana trailed by a 44-26 count with 34 seconds remaining in the first half. Tamika Catchings hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it a 15-point game, and the Fever headed to their dressing quarters to ponder what threatened to slip away from them. The Liberty led in energy, focus and production.

Catchings, the team’s unquestioned leader, sat down by her locker, shed her shoes and also tried to rid herself of the dissatisfaction she felt. Through six playoff quarters against New York, the Fever had turned in less than stellar play.

“I took off my shoes and just kind of relaxed, thinking about the day and … what I’ve given to the game and what my teammates needed from me,” Catchings said.

“And (in the second half), I went out and just played the way I know how to play.”

Catchings scored 16 second-half points, including 10 in the fourth quarter. During one stretch, she hit seven of her team’s 10 field goals. She played a major part in an 18-4 run that gave Indiana its first lead, 60-59, with 2:40 left in the game.

Catchings, who was at her slashing and driving best in the game, led the Fever with 25 points and seven rebounds. But also deserving attention was her pass to Shenise Johnson for the 3-pointer that sent Indiana ahead. Johnson, who didn’t attempt a field goal in the first half, had the Fieldhouse fans on their feet.

“You could see at first, she was kind of stone-faced,” Catchings said about Johnson. “Then she started smiling and I was like, ‘Man, have fun. This is what it’s all about.’ From there we just kept building on that momentum.”

Johnson, who had 12 points and six rebounds Sunday, has scored in double figures in all five postseason games for Indiana. She is averaging 13.6 points.

“I wasn’t really thinking anything,” Johnson said about her 3-pointer. “My basketball instincts kind of took over. Catch has made that pass to me plenty of times throughout the year. Of course, the stakes are a little higher, given the intensity of the game – win or go home.”

New York regained the lead one more time at 64-63, but Catchings erased that edge with a jumper in the lane.

With 15.9 seconds left, the Fever took a three-point lead when Erlana Larkins hit a pair of free throws. New York’s Tanisha Wright hurried the ball up the court in an effort to set up a 3-point shot. She collided with January, who went down in a heap, and Wright was called for the charge.

“I thought I was set and I was hoping (the officials) saw the same thing I felt,” said January, who made the WNBA’s All-Defensive Team earlier in the day.

The referees tagged New York Coach Bill Laimbeer with a technical foul after the play. Johnson connected on the technical free throw, and Catchings added two more foul shots to close out the game.

Shavonte Zellous came off the bench to score 10 for Indiana. Marissa Coleman also scored 10 and added five rebounds.

Tina Charles led New York with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Epiphanny Prince scored 12.

Now, with the series heading back to New York, the Fever can take with them the knowledge they are 3-0 in elimination games this postseason. But they would be well-served, too, to take along the message that was delivered during Sunday’s halftime, respond and put it into action for the entire game.

“Today was just an example of the fight and the grit and the character of this team,” Catchings said. “At halftime, we talked about what this team is made of and what we all have inside of us.”

The next test of that resolve comes Tuesday night.

September 27, 2015 – Shavonte Zellous, Marissa Coleman and Shenise Johnson speak about what it took to pull off their 70-64 Game 2 win over the Liberty.

September 27, 2015 – Fever head coach Stephanie White spoke about her message to the team when they were down 18, and the effort of Tamika Catchings.

September 27, 2015 – Check out the Fever’s top plays from their 70-64 win over the New York Liberty.

September 27, 2015 – Fever guard Shavonte Zellous gets a 3-pointer to bounce in as the buzzer sounds at the end of the third quarter in Game 2 of the 2015 WNBA Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Liberty.

September 27, 2015 – Fever guard Briann January blocks New York Liberty center Kiah Stokes to force a shot clock violation in Game 2 of the 2015 WNBA Eastern Conference Finals.