Commentary

Dream top Fever to extend East finals

Atlanta's Iziane Castro Marques comes up big with playoff career-high 30 points

Originally Published: September 25, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Iziane Castro Marques talks about her impact in the Dream's 94-77 victory.

ATLANTA -- It's not as though we haven't seen Iziane Castro Marques have huge games before. After all, she was an All-Star last season, averaging nearly 17 points per game. But she hasn't really been that kind of dominant player this year.

If she hadn't done it Sunday, Atlanta's 2011 season most likely would have been over. Instead, the Dream took Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, 94-77, sending the series back to Indianapolis for a deciding third game Tuesday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

The winner will face Minnesota, which won the Western Conference finals 2-0, in the WNBA finals, which start next Sunday in Minneapolis.

Atlanta will be trying to make a repeat trip to the WNBA finals, having faced champion Seattle last year. On Sunday, the Dream were without starting center Erika de Souza, who had to fulfill a commitment to the Brazilian national team playing in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Colombia.

[+] EnlargeTamika Catchings
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesTamika Catchings appeared to injure her foot -- and had to be carried off the court by teammates -- in the second half Sunday.

Her countrywoman Castro Marques more than filled the gap, scoring 30 points. It was her career best for a playoff game, and two points off her career high in any WNBA game.

"Maybe she should have went with the Brazilian national team," joked Indiana's Katie Douglas of Castro Marques. "Can we get her called up?"

Actually, it was a relief to see some levity from the Fever in the postgame news conference after a scary-looking injury to league MVP Tamika Catchings of Indiana with just less five five minutes left Sunday.

Catchings was guarding Dream center Alison Bales on the perimeter and injured her right foot. Catchings tried to get up, then went back down again. She was carried off the court by her teammates, a towel over her head.

Initially, it had the appearance of a possible Achilles' tendon injury, which is something Catchings has endured before. She suffered a torn Achilles in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, but was able to rehab well enough to return for most of the 2008 WNBA season and play for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.

However, coach Lin Dunn said after the game that while the Fever were unsure what exactly was wrong with Catchings, it wasn't her Achilles.

"We'll know more about her status tomorrow, but good news, bad news," Dunn said. "Good news, it's not her Achilles. She knows that from past experience. Bad news, it's her right foot."

Douglas, who has had an outstanding regular season and postseason, helped carry Catchings off the floor. Douglas also carried the Fever all game, finishing with 25 points, six assists and five rebounds. In fact, Douglas -- known all her career, including in college at Purdue, as a combo guard/forward/you name it -- even played point guard in the latter part of Sunday's game.

The Fever started this season with three point guards, but early on Briann January tore her ACL and was lost for the summer. Indiana has done an admirable job of covering for January's absence most of the season, but it was more glaring in this game. Because with de Souza out, the Dream went with a smaller, quicker starting lineup. Plus, Fever starting point guard Erin Phillips and reserve Shannon Bobbitt were not as effective as Dunn needed.

Offensively, the Fever struggled a lot, shooting 39.2 percent. Catchings was 2-of-10 from the field before her injury, scoring eight points. And defensively, no one for the Fever was able to stop Castro Marques and Angel McCoughtry, who rallied big-time from a frustrating, foul-plagued Game 1. McCoughtry had 25 points Sunday; she and Castro Marques were a combined 24-of-45 from the field (53.3 percent).

[+] EnlargeMcCoughtry
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesAngel McCoughtry had 27 points to help the Dream even the series and force the East finals back to Indiana for Tuesday's Game 3.

"What were my thoughts before the game? Just win," McCoughtry said. "I was relaxed and focused. We didn't let the situation with Erika bother us. We said, 'She's not here, so let's find another strength.' So I had to play the [power forward] obviously, and just wanted to use my quickness. We went through adversity all year, so we're used to adjusting."

All teams have to do that to some degree throughout the season. But how will the Fever adjust if they don't have Catchings for Game 3?

"I don't want to think about that until the final decision is made," Douglas said. "I know Catch -- if she has to crawl, she's going to crawl for this team. I don't want to speculate and get into how we're going to play without her until we have a firm diagnosis."

At age 32, Catchings finally won the MVP this season after being a strong candidate virtually every season of her 10-year career. Catchings said recently she was dedicating this season to her college coach, Tennessee's Pat Summitt, who revealed in August that she has early-onset dementia.

Catchings was understandably upset as she was taken from the court Sunday.

"I saw her face and saw her trying to get up and not being able to," Douglas said of Catchings. "As a player, it's really emotional when those kind of things happen. Tamika wants to win a championship so bad, so I know her going down -- I'm sure all kinds of thoughts were running through her head. I told her, 'Think positive, don't think the worst.' I'm still positive until I hear confirmation, that she could possibly play on Tuesday."

That might be a long shot, of course. Meanwhile, the Dream know for sure it will not have de Souza, who started every other game this season. She averaged 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds during the regular season, 12.0 and 10.7 in the three playoff games.

Castro Marques is far more fluent in English and typically does the English-Portuguese translations for de Souza in interviews. She said de Souza was upset to have to leave the Dream during the playoffs, but also felt obligated -- not just contractually, but emotionally -- to play for their country.

Meanwhile, Castro Marques will join the Brazilian national team later in October, after the WNBA playoffs are over, for the Pan-Am Games. A 6-foot wing player, she scored 7.6 points per game this season, her lowest average since 7.2 in 2006.

Castro Marques' previous high this summer was 19 points -- which came all the way back on June 5 in the season opener. In fact, she had scored in double figures in only three of her previous 14 games entering Sunday.

"I just was very focused, and I knew how important it was for me to be in the starting lineup today and play well," Castro Marques said. "I want to play in the finals again this year, and win. As the game was going on, I was feeling it.

"This season has been frustrating, especially when you come from such a good season that I had last year. I expected to go to the next level, but instead I dropped. But I just kept hanging in and trying to do as much as I could, to do whatever this team needed from me."

As Dream coach Marynell Meadors said, "I think Izi took it on as her responsibility to help this team. Her countrywoman was not here, so she felt she had to play well. She has been playing better, really, over the last few weeks. But today, she was in the starting lineup and just knew she had to play hard."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.