- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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The last time the Connecticut Sun made it to the WNBA Finals, Katie Douglas was a big reason why. This year, she'll try to be a key part of keeping the Sun from playing for a league title.
Douglas will go back to what once was her home court, Mohegan Sun Arena, when Indiana meets Connecticut in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).
She started her WNBA career in Orlando in 2001 and moved when that franchise relocated to Connecticut in 2003. The Sun went to the WNBA Finals in 2004 and 2005. In Douglas' final season in Connecticut, she and the Sun lost to Indiana in the 2007 East semifinals.
The next year, the Sun accommodated her wish to play in her hometown and traded Douglas to the Fever. Since then, she and Tamika Catchings -- an 11-year Fever vet -- have done all they could to get WNBA champion added on their résumés next to NCAA champion.
But it hasn't happened yet. For the Fever to have a chance to get a title in 2012, they'll first have to overcome a Sun team led by league MVP Tina Charles.
The Sun, which finished first in the East, swept New York in the first round, completing that series Saturday. The Fever had a tougher road to the East finals, but they also played a tougher first-round foe in Atlanta. Indiana made the journey even harder by losing the first game of that series at home 75-66.
That meant a trip to Atlanta facing elimination. Instead of crumbling, the Fever played one of their best offensive games of the season, a 103-88 victory in which six Indiana players scored in double figures.
Douglas wasn't one of them. She had just three points in that game on 1-for-6 shooting, one rebound and zero assists. Rarely has a stat line looked less like it belonged to Douglas.
But in Game 3 in Indianapolis on Tuesday, she took advantage of another chance against the Dream. This time, she was the "real" Katie Douglas: 24 points, four rebounds and two assists while playing in all but 28 seconds of the Fever's 75-64 series-clinching victory.
"I was saying thank you to my teammates after Sunday," Douglas said, "because I didn't want to finish my season with that performance."
It's pretty much impossible to imagine the Fever winning this series against Connecticut without big performances from Catchings and Douglas. Catchings is averaging 17 points and 11.7 rebounds in the playoffs, while Douglas is at 13.3 and 3.
At the same time, Indiana can't be overly reliant on either of them. In their two victories against the Dream, the Fever didn't need to be.
"As long as we stay balanced, we will be a hard team to beat," Douglas said. "When we have to rely too much on me and Tamika, it just makes things so much tougher when our teammates aren't looking to be aggressive."
Indiana got a big lift in Game 3 from two players who weren't competing for the Fever last year when they lost to Atlanta in the East finals. Briann January was out with a knee injury, and Erlana Larkins wasn't in the WNBA.
January, who as a rookie was a key part of the Fever's run to the Finals in 2009, was an obvious absence in 2011 when she got hurt. Indiana was counting on her to be back strong this year. What the Fever didn't know was how well Larkins -- who played limited minutes for New York in 2008 and 2009 -- would respond to another chance in the WNBA.
The answer is that Larkins is playing the best she has all season, averaging 14.3 points and 11.7 rebounds in the three playoff games, which includes 20 rebounds against the Dream in Game 3, a big part of the Fever's 45-25 edge on the boards.
The Fever will need Larkins and everybody else to combat a hungry Sun team that won its first playoff series since 2006. Connecticut won the regular-season series with Indiana 3-1 and has the home-court advantage in the East finals. That said, the Sun did lose five times at home this season.
Indiana was 9-8 on the road in the 2012 regular season, but the Fever got a big win at Atlanta when they absolutely had to. They'll try to take that confidence into Connecticut.
16dBonnie D. Ford