WNBA Playoffs: Overtime Dispatch of Washington Gives Indiana 2-0 Sweep in East Semifinals
By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)
WASHINGTON – Like a fine merlot, 35-year old Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings continues getting better with time.
Catchings added another memorable postseason performance to her highlight-filled portfolio with a 26-point, 11-rebound masterpiece that lifted second-seeded Indiana to a thrilling 81-76 overtime victory over third-seeded Washington in the second game of an Eastern Conference semifinal instant classic at the Verizon Center Saturday night.
“It is never fun losing a playoff series especially when you have a chance to win,” Washington coach Mike Thibault said. “I guess I can say we got beat by a Hall of Famer. She was terrific.”
This was playoff basketball at its best.
In a game featuring more suspense and drama than an episode of “Scandal”, each team answered the other with clutch plays, dynamite defense and big shots. There were 12 ties and 11 lead changes throughout the intense affair.
In the end, Catchings was the difference in this contest and series as the Fever advanced to Eastern Finals for the fourth straight season.
Playing nearly 37 minutes, Catchings was 8-of-16 from the field and 9-of-10 from the foul line.
Catchings averaged 24 points and 10.5 rebounds in the two victories over the Mystics this week.
In Thursday’s game, she became the leading rebounder in WNBA postseason history. Saturday, she became the leading scorer in league playoffs history with 914 points surpassing Lisa Leslie.
Catchings has scored 20 or more points 21 times in 53 career playoff games.
She already owns all-time playoffs records for steals, free throws and double-doubles with 22, recording one in 41 percent of the playoff contests she’s appeared.
“It’s a tribute to our organization and to the great players I’ve been able to play with along the way,” the modest Catchings said following the game as she had a bag of ice on her left arm. “You can’t do it by yourself and my teammates have helped put me in the situations.
"I’ve had highs and lows, a lot of shots missed, but they’re always in my ear. I think having that confidence from your teammates helps you along the way.”
Of course, before Catchings could finish her sentence, veteran Fever coach Lin Dunn interrupted her star player and offered a not-so-modest opinion.
“She won’t say it, but I’ll be happy to say it,” Dunn said as the media room erupted in laughter. “Let me elaborate. The records she’s set in the playoffs indicate to me you may be watching one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
The Fever captured the best-of-three series in two tough and gritty games.
It is the Fever’s seventh trip to the conference finals in the past 10 years, matching a league record for a 10-year span.
They will play either top-seeded Atlanta Dream or fourth-seeded Chicago Sky beginning Saturday. The Sky lead the series, 1-0, and can close out the Dream Sunday night in Chicago.
“I just thought it was a great game,” Dunn said. “I think down the stretch we were able to make a couple of big plays and a couple of really big defensive stops.
"It was two teams battling their hearts out. It didn’t surprise me that it came down to the wire and went into overtime.
"We’re just very happy to win this game on the road and now wait and see who we’re going to play in the [Eastern Conference] finals.”
The win extended Dunn's current chapter prior to moving to the next chapter, as she calls her life in terms of moving to what will be an active retirement once the Indiana season ends with either a second WNBA trophy or playoffs defeat.
Catchings, who scored nine points in the extra five minutes, passed Leslie in style by drilling her only 3-pointer of the game -- a wide-open look -- with 94 seconds remaining to give the Fever the lead for good, 74-72.
Her basket answered Kara Lawson’s triple with 2:30 left that gave the Mystics their only lead of overtime, 72-71.
Turning in strong efforts for the Fever was Briann January, who added 13 points and seven assists.
She got the assist on Catchings’ overtime 3-pointer. January also made two foul shots with 19.6 seconds remaining that tied the game at 66 and ultimately forced overtime. Her lockdown defense on Ivory Latta on the Mystics’ final possession of regulation was terrific as Latta could not get off a clean look at a potential game-winner.
Marrisa Coleman, a former star up the road at nearby Maryland, and Karima Christmas also added 10 points each for the Fever.
Erlana Larkins scored four of her nine points in overtime. She also grabbed 11 rebounds.
Lawson turned back the clock and delivered 20 entertaining points, including consecutive 3-point baskets in overtime that erased a four-point deficit.
Tianna Hawkins scored nine straight points in the fourth quarter to help Washington open a 62-57 lead with 3:55 remaining. She finished with 13 points.
Lawson and Hawkins combined to make 13-of-21 shots, including 5-of-8 from 3-point distance. Latta, who was 8-for-8 from the foul line, added 12 points.
“Being able to watch the game from the bench was a big help for me,” Hawkins said. “Then coming in and having a good spark for the team and getting key rebounds and just attacking the boards and my teammates finding me in good spots on the floor was key.”
The Mystics bench was strong throughout the game outscoring the Fever’s reserves, 45-15.
Kalana Greene made a 3-pointer in the final two seconds of the third quarter to give Washington a 53-51 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Greene’s shot helped the Mystics finish the third quarter on a 20-9 run that erased a nine-point deficit.
For the game, the Mystics shot 41.3 percent from the field (26-for-63) and limited the Fever to 37.1 percent (26-for-70).
The Mystics also won the rebounding battle, 37-34. Emma Meesseman pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds for the Mystics while Bria Hartley handed out a team-high five assists.
“What sticks out to you when you lose are all the things you messed up as a competitor; things that you could have done better,” Lawson said. “We gave it what we had.
"I thought Tianna Hawkins played terrific for us. I thought our bench really came in and helped level the game and helped get into overtime. We can certainly be proud of our effort.”
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