By Brendan Rourke
After tying the franchise record for wins in the regular season, the Fever knew they had what it takes to secure their first WNBA title. However, as with all championship runs, the squad ran into some unexpected adversity. Luckily, the team rallied and pushed forward to the next series.
Securing the Eastern Conference’s second seed during the regular season meant a matchup against 2012 scoring leader Angel McCoughtry, Lindsey Harding, and the Atlanta Dream. Atlanta had a strong defense with quick hands, with Sancho Lyttle and Armintie Price earning All-Defensive First and Second Team honors during the regular season. Lyttle finished with a league-high 82 steals.
Despite the Fever holding homecourt advantage, the Dream’s defensive prowess was on display fully during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Fever stars Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings were limited to 13 and 10 points each as Indiana fell, 75-66, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Atlanta limited Indiana to 24-of-60 (40 percent) shooting, including 3-of-13 (23 percent) from beyond the arc.
The Fever struggled out of the gate, falling into a 25-15 hole after the first quarter. From there, they had to play catch-up basketball. However, the Dream’s defense stood tall, taking a 41-32 edge into halftime. The Fever managed to hit the 20-point mark for the first time in the fourth quarter. However, it just was not enough for a comeback attempt.
Staring elimination in the face, the Fever knew they needed a bounce-back game on the road. And the squad did that on Sept. 30. Catchings tallied a game-high 25 points, Briann January followed with 24, and the Fever rolled to a 103-88 victory to force Game 3.
Flipping the script from the previous game, Indiana eclipsed the 20-point mark in all four quarters. The squad took a three-point lead into halftime but then erupted for 31 points in the third quarter to create distance. Catchings muscled her way through the Dream’s tough defense, reeling in five offensive rebounds and earning a game-high 12 free-throw attempts. She sank 10 of them to bolster Indiana’s efforts. January appeared near-automatic for stretches of the game, hitting 10 of her 17 field goal attempts. On an off night for Douglas, Erlana Larkins found her stroke, posting 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Defensively, the Fever held Harding and McCoughtry to 13 field goals on 32 attempts combined. Catchings and January also snagged three steals each.
Two days later, the Fever returned to Gainbridge Fieldhouse with revenge on their minds. After a back-and-forth game, Indiana secured a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals with a gritty 75-64 win.
Douglas had the ultimate bounce-back performance. After posting three points in the Fever’s win, the Purdue graduate and Indianapolis native tallied 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including 3-of-6 from deep. A trio of teammates (Catchings, January, and Larkins) followed her with 16 each. Larkins also had an outstanding game on the glass, grabbing a game-high 20 rebounds, including nine on offense. However, the game was not as easy as it seemed.
Adversity struck Indiana once again. This time, it came in the form of turnovers. After grabbing a 25-17 lead after the first quarter, Indiana committed eight turnovers in the second quarter, allowing Atlanta to knot the score at 39 before halftime.
However, when Indiana’s offense struggled, the defense clamped down. In the second half, the Fever limited the Dream to just 25 total points, including 12 in the third quarter. The once-lethal tandem of Harding and McCoughtry shot a combined 6-of-21 from the field in the second half. McCoughtry failed to hit a field goal in the third.
Indiana outscored Atlanta 21-13 in the fourth quarter to put the game away in front of a fervent home crowd. The ride continued three days later, on Oct. 5 versus the top-seeded Connecticut Sun. Although, an all-too-familiar setting reappeared after Game 1 of the next series.