Tamika Catchings carries Fever past Sky into East finals

ByMelissa Isaacson ESPN logo
Monday, November 2, 2015

CHICAGO -- It was one of those moments like so many others in a game, in a season and in the 14-year career of Tamika Catchings that is easy to overlook.

But in this moment and in this game, Catchings' rebound of a missed free throw by a teammate and her resulting two foul shots gave her Indiana Fever a nine-point lead with 47 seconds left in the deciding game of their WNBA Eastern Conference playoff series against the Chicago Sky.

If it wasn't the final dagger in the Fever's 100-89 victory, it was one of them. And more than that, Monday night was one more example of the effect Catchings has on her team, which advanced to its fifth consecutive Eastern Conference finals. The Fever will play the winner of the New York-Washington series.

"She wills our teams and has always willed our teams to do things many don't think our teams are capable of doing," Fever coach Stephanie White said.

Catchings, who has said next season will be her last, led the Fever with 27 points (12 in the fourth quarter) on 8-of-16 shooting, nine rebounds and six assists while becoming the first player in league history to score 1,000 career points in the playoffs.

Catchings' performance, complemented by Shenise Johnson's 22 points, Erlana Larkins' 18 and Marissa Coleman's 17, managed to negate a 40-point night from Elena Delle Donne.

"Catch obviously makes them believe things they never thought they could do, and that's what makes her so special aside from her talent," Delle Donne said.

The league's MVP, who scored a combined 25 points in Games 1 and 2, had 14 points in the first quarter of Game 3 on 5-of-5 shooting, including three 3-pointers.

But the Sky, an offensive powerhouse who have admittedly had defensive deficiencies in 2015 despite finishing the regular season with their second-best record in franchise history, allowed the Fever to shoot a franchise-playoff-record 57.8 percent from the field Monday.

And the league's best 3-point shooting team, which hit just 1 of 16 in its Game 2 victory, was 10 of 20 from 3-point range in Game 3. Coleman was 5-for-7 from downtown.

"You don't win a playoff game in regulation giving up 100 points," said Sky coach Pokey Chatman, whose team played in the WNBA Finals last season.

But more than that, said White, was the "warrior mentality" of the Fever's leader and the equally dogged efforts by Larkins, who was limited much of the season with separate leg injuries. Larkins had seven rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.

"I can't say enough about the monster on the boards," Catching said. "We call her the beast."

Catchings said she urged her teammates to "have fun" after their well-played five-point loss in Chicago in Game 1, the fifth straight loss they had suffered at the hands of the Sky this season.

"We definitely had confidence after dropping Game 1," Catchings said. "[We said] no one expects us to win so we might as well go out with a bang."

The Fever never trailed in the second half, extending a five-point halftime lead to nine points at 59-50 with 6:34 left in the third quarter, the biggest lead by either team in the series. And Larkins gave the Fever a further confidence boost when she put back a Shavonte Zellous miss and then converted the three-point play in the final seconds of the period to keep Indiana's lead at eight and stop the surging Sky.

"We have a once-in-a-lifetime player in Tamika Catchings but she's also 36," White said. "We have to do it by committee and our team has stepped up all season long."

For Catchings, who described her team as "tense from wanting to win [Game 1] so badly," downplayed surpassing the 1,000-point playoff mark, calling it "cool."

"It's great because when you look at that, it means that our team has been successful and that we've been able to make it to the postseason 11 years," Catchings added. "Points and all that, I don't really focus on that. I want to win some more championships."

But as her careers winds down, one of the WNBA's all-time greats had no trouble admitting that each moment is more precious than the last.

"Every game I go out ... it becomes the last of everything," she said. "It's the last offseason and then after that, it's the last first game of the season. Really, it's just another opportunity. I'm enjoying my team, I love my teammates, I'm savoring these moments."

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