Game 1 goes to Fever, Katie Douglas
But Fever, who lost in 2009 finals, know there is plenty of work left to do
As often as we WNBA observers note how much Indiana's Tamika Catchings wants a league title, it's worth mentioning again that she's not the only outstanding player from the college class of 2001 who desires that trophy. Her Fever teammate Katie Douglas also has that as a cherished goal.
Douglas and Catchings came close to their first WNBA title in 2009, but Phoenix wrested it away in a five-game series that was one of the most memorable in WNBA finals history.
Their first postseason step toward trying to win it all in 2011 came Thursday at Indy's Conseco Fieldhouse, a 74-72 victory over New York that left Fever fans letting out a loud exhale when Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter's 3-pointer at the final buzzer didn't go.
Douglas was the high scorer with 25, and it's worth noting she has been on a point-production tear of late. In her six games played this September, Douglas is averaging 20.3 points. Her average for the regular season was 13.9. She has now scored in double figures in nine consecutive games.
In back-to-back performances, Douglas scored 30 points in the regular-season finale against Atlanta and 25 in the playoff opener. Also Thursday, Douglas had six rebounds and two assists.
Guard Erin Phillips ended up hitting the game-winning shot for Indiana, and that drama was necessary because the Liberty had made a successful run against the Fever to erase a 15-point lead. Also to be commended was Fever veteran post player Tammy Sutton-Brown, who showed she's still quite capable of reaching into her bag of tricks and pulling out a much-needed big game. Sutton-Brown went 10-of-10 from the line on her way to 14 points, and she also had seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
Overall, the opening night of the WNBA postseason was one that showcased various "dynamic duos." The 80-61 Seattle victory over visiting Phoenix was surprising not because of who won, but by how much. One naturally would assume Phoenix with the number "61" next to it couldn't possibly be a final score, but it was.
The Mercury's star duo of Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor were frustrated in combining for 24 points. Seattle's star combo Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird combined for 21 points, but they were much happier. Thanks in large part to the pair that might get fewer headlines but not less applause from grateful Storm fans: Camille Little (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Tanisha Wright (game-high 21 points, five rebounds). The Storm continue to own the Mercury, who now must dig out against a team against which they have lost 11 of their past 12 games going back to the 2010 season.
Meanwhile, the duo that has so often stolen the show in the Eastern Conference resides in Indiana. Douglas and Catchings were born 2½ months apart in 1979, and both won one NCAA title in college. Catchings got hers as a freshman at Tennessee in 1998; Douglas won as a sophomore with Purdue in 1999.
Douglas is the Indianapolis native who finally came home as a pro in 2008 after spending the first seven years of her WNBA career in Orlando and Connecticut. Catchings is the pillar of the Fever franchise, having been there all 10 of her WNBA seasons.
Douglas has one more year in the WNBA; Catchings had to miss what would have been her rookie season in 2001 with a knee injury that had cut short her senior season.
We know these two so well, don't we? We've watched them grow up as people and players. We've been moved by stories of their personal struggles: Douglas lost both her parents to cancer, Catchings dealt with a hearing impairment that isolated her growing up.
And we've seen time and again what tenacious competitors both are, and how that has come to define the Fever. The score was tied with 18 seconds left, and Pondexter was charging up the court in transition. Then Catchings made one of those plays that Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird commended her for during a recent conference call with reporters. He said Catchings had that trait the greatest players exhibit: They never give up on a play. Catchings chased down Pondexter and poked away the ball. It went out of bounds off Pondexter, giving Indiana possession for what ended up being Phillips' game-winner with 1.5 seconds left.
Douglas hit four 3-pointers, and like all the other Fever players who got in the game, she expended effort trying to thwart Pondexter's offensive prowess. Pondexter ended up with 18 points, a low output for her.
The Fever are relieved but not overly excited about this victory; they've been down this road too many times and know there's still a lot of work to do. But you won't find any two players more willing to metaphorically roll up their sleeves and dive in than Douglas and Catchings. Thursday, they were at it again.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.