WNBA Finals: White Huddle Outburst Leads to Indiana Forcing Minnesota to Game Five
For Blue Star Media
INDIANAPOLIS -- Call it the tongue-lashing heard ‘round the huddle.
Holding off the Minnesota Lynx most of Sunday night from wrapping up Game 4 and the WNBA championship for 2015 here in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Indiana Fever were on the verge of seeing all the comebacks starting with the Eastern semifinals go for naught.
Minnesota, which had taken a 2-1 lead here Friday night in the best of five series on Maya Moore’s three-point buzzer-beater, had bolted from a 36-32 halftime deficit to a 38-36 lead on Sylvia Fowles’ layup with 8 minutes, 26 seconds left in the third quarter.
At that moment, Fever rookie coach Stephanie White called a timeout and gathered her troops.
“I just really challenged our team,” White said. “Our attention to detail was worse. We were fumbling the ball. Nobody was sure about anything we were doing.
“So I just challenged them. `Do you want to see the opponent hoisting up a trophy on our home floor, or do you want to fight, and do you want to do everything we’ve done to put ourselves in this position?
“Fortunately, they responded. It’s tough. You’re playing against a great opponent. You can’t afford to have moments like that because they’re going to capitalize and make you pay for that, and we can’t afford to do it.”
From that moment the Fever surged on a 13-2 run and went on to open a 14-point lead, largest of the series, and thrilled the predominantly pro-Indiana crowd of 10,582 fans to gain a 75-69 victory re-tie the series and send it back to Minnesota Wednesday night for a penultimate Game 5.
Tamika Catchings, the elegant former Tennessee All-American and Hall-of-Fame bound warrior who will retire after next season, offered a family-friendly Fevers player perspective on what was said.
“That’s a `You need to be in the huddle’ moment,” Catchings said with a smile. “Steph went off on us and basically just challenged us. She said, `You guys have 30 seconds to turn this thing around.’
“Literally, we went out and she just lit a fire upon us, and she was like,` this is a game to allow you an opportunity to play for a championship, and this is how you want to come out?’ Those are my nice words,” Catchings winked.
Indiana is 5-0 in elimination games to date in the postseason, including two on the road to emerge out of the Eastern Conference in their 11th straight playoff appearance – a league record.
The Fever, seeded third, dropped Game 1 of the East semis on the road to the defending conference playoff champion Chicago Sky and then bounced back to take the next two games and move on against the overall top-seeded New York Liberty, against whom they dropped that Game 1 in Madison Square Garden.
Then down 18 points here in Game 2, Indiana rallied and then went back on the road to control the New Yorkers and reach the WNBA championship series for the third time. In 2009 they dropped a thrilling five-game series to the Phoenix Mercury, came back in 2012 to dethrone Minnesota, which won its first title in 2011, and here they are one win away again.
A lot of times might have had trouble recovering from Friday night’s crusher, but this franchise has become skilled in resiliency first under White’s predecessor Lin Dunn and continued under White who was promoted after Dunn retired at the end of last season.
“Indiana played great,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star in Philadelphia who will also be one of UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s assistants in the Olympics in Rio next summer.
“They played like a team that didn’t want their season to end. Played with great pace.
“They had to be thrilled with their defense, just the way they came at us. Frankly, it probably started with their defense. We started early in the game with silly turnovers. They were very opportunistic.
“Briann January outshot us at the free-throw line. We had nine free throws. She had 12. That’s not good for us. 26 (Indiana) free throws, and it was all Indiana just creating a pace, doing what they do, straight line drives. Our defense was not as good as we need to be.”
Indiana only made one field goal in the fourth quarter but was 15-for-18 from the line.
On Friday night, Minnesota’s Moore missed a chunk of the game because of foul trouble, and 48 hours later it was inside post presence Sylvia Fowles limited to less than a half of action.
Shenise Johnson, the former Florida State star picked up in the offseason as a free agent, had another stellar night, scoring 15 points for an Indiana high, with nine coming in the second half.
January had 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Marissa Coleman scored 14 points, and Catchings had 10 points and four rebounds in under under 35 minutes.
White talked about Catchings being the reason the Fever have won so many elimination games over their years in the WNBA.
“A lot of people were asking me about Catchings’ numbers,” she said. I’m like, no, it’s not the numbers. She’s tricking all you guys because it’s not the numbers,” White explained.
“It’s the way she creates for her teammates whether it be through her hard-nose play, whether it be through her extra possessions and toughness, whether it be through her spacing, whether it be what she is saying in the huddle, the way she’s been coachable all season long.
“I challenged her with a couple of her turnovers, and she took it. So there is a lot of things Tamika Catchings does that don’t show up in the stat sheets that we value as teammates and that allow her teammates to be coached the way I coach her.”
Incidentally, the extended series will delay White from getting into her winter gig as a chief women’s basketball analyst on the Big Ten Network, so whatever happens Wednesday, she probably won’t be doing the early network preps at the conference media day in Chicago Thursday.
Meanwhile, on the Minnesota side, Moore finished with 20 points, but Fowles, because of her limited play, scored just four points. Seimone Augustus scored 10 and Lindsay Whalen scored 16 in one of her better performances in this series.
So now what has been an exciting test of wills heads to theTarget Center.
Moore first rebuffed the idea of being home for a game that will probably draw the most attention in the WNBA all season, indicating the better feeling would have been to have finished off the Fever.
But she then acknowledged what has been on the better finals in the history of the championship series.
“”The series has been a fun one to watch,” the former UConn great said. “Especially the last few games have been very fun, I think just from a fan standpoint.
“So a lot of great things happening, players making plays. Sometimes you can have all the schemes and sets in the world, and it comes down to players making plays. You’ve seen a lot of that in this series. One more game to see which players do that more.”
As for playing at home Wednesday, Moore said, “It’s going to be hard, but if I was to, like I said, have a choice, I’d want to do it at the Target Center.
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