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|Katie Douglas and Indiana have lost five of six games against Angel McCoughtry's Dream in 2011.|
INDIANAPOLIS -- In Game 1, Indiana's Tangela Smith took over as the star. In Game 2, Atlanta's Iziane Castro Marques had her turn. Might there be another 2011 role player for one (or both) teams who surprises folks with a career-type night in the decisive third game of the WNBA's Eastern Conference finals?
The Fever, especially, might need that kind of boost as the news Monday on injured Tamika Catchings didn't sound so good for Tuesday's series finale (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).
Indiana coach Lin Dunn told the Indianapolis Star after practice Monday that the team would know more later in the day, but would have to be prepared in the event that Catchings wasn't available. Smith told the newspaper that Catchings -- who suffered an injury to her right foot in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 94-77 loss at Atlanta -- was sending her teammates encouraging text messages, and that the Indiana players wanted to win the game for their team leader.
So if Catchings, the league's MVP, isn't available for the Fever, how will they adjust? Among many things Indiana must figure out is how to play better defense -- especially minus one of the best defenders in WNBA history. And the Fever will have to cut down on turnovers, something they've struggled with in both postseason matchups with the Dream.
"It's always a physical game when Atlanta and the Fever play each other -- but the whole playoffs are physical," Dunn said. "Every possession is gold, and we're fighting like you should be at the end of the season."
|The Fever must play better defense, cut down on turnovers and step up offensively to help Katie Douglas.|
It indeed will be the end for one team Tuesday. The Fever were without Catchings on Sept. 11 in the regular-season finale, which was also against Atlanta. She was held out of that game -- a 93-88 Dream win -- as a precautionary measure because she was dealing with some knee pain.
Not to mention that the Fever had nothing at stake: They'd already wrapped up home-court advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, and at that point couldn't match Western Conference first-place team Minnesota for that edge in the WNBA Finals. No matter who wins Tuesday at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Finals will start Sunday in Minneapolis.
If Catchings were available Tuesday and not too hobbled, the edge for Game 3 likely would go to the Fever even though they've lost five of their six games against the Dream this season.
But if Catchings doesn't play, the Fever will need another huge game by Douglas -- she had 25 points Sunday and is averaging 20.4 in the five games of this postseason -- and more offense from at least a couple of others. The only Fever player besides Douglas who scored in double figures Sunday was reserve center Jessica Davenport with 12.
If Catchings is sidelined, the odds definitely shift in favor of Atlanta, which is seeking its second consecutive appearance in the WNBA Finals.
"We will prepare for her being on the court," Atlanta's Marynell Meadors said of Catchings. "As for us, it's the playoffs, and you throw it all out there. You hope to perform to a high standard."
The Dream did that, for the most part, Sunday at Philips Arena. With Erika de Souza gone to the Brazilian national team, Castro Marques moved into a starting lineup that was smaller. It had two guards (Lindsey Harding, Armintie Price), two wings (Castro Marques, Angel McCoughtry) and a forward (Sancho Lyttle).
All scored in double figures, led by Castro Marques' season-high 30 points. McCoughtry had 27, and the other three starters scored 10 points each. And with the 6-foot-5 de Souza gone, 6-7 center Alison Bales got more time off the bench. She finished with two points and six rebounds in just more than 22 minutes.
Bales was a shot-blocking force in college at Duke. She both blocks and alters shots at the pro level. Bales' size is supplemented by her teammates' quickness on defense. In both games of this series, the Fever missed several close-in shots, and that's not just because their aim was off. The Dream -- with or without de Souza -- make it hard for opponents inside.
"Coach likes to call them chippies or bunnies -- I think it's just a matter of will at this point," Douglas said of the Fever making those shots Tuesday that they've missed in the first two games. "I don't feel like they are uncontested; there's a lot of contact. But that's the way it should be.
"Atlanta had more will than we had [Sunday]. So give them credit. I expect a different kind of will, a response, from the Fever on Tuesday. We have to will those shots in, because everybody's legs are just as tired. I know that they are quick, but I'm sure they are feeling some fatigue, too."
Dunn added, "We missed shots that we needed to hit. And Castro Marques really hurt us. We'll have to talk about some adjustments. I thought the turnovers hurt us. But this is why we won the Eastern Conference, so we'd have home court. We've got to regroup and get ready. We'll be ready Tuesday night."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.