- Kate Fagan, Columnist, espnW.com
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UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- About midway through the second quarter of Thursday's game, Todd Champlin, trainer for the Indiana Fever, walked behind the bench and gently put a hand on the shoulder of coach Lin Dunn.
Champlin leaned down and whispered into Dunn's ear, telling the coach something along the lines of "Katie's done for the night." Dunn shook her head in frustration and uttered a few family-unfriendly words. Dunn knew in that moment that her team wasn't just bridging the gap until Katie Douglas' return; the Fever now needed to get through an entire game without their veteran star forward and prolific scorer. And this wasn't just any game. Nope. This was the decisive Game 3 of the WNBA Eastern Conference finals against the Connecticut Sun -- on the Sun's home floor, no less.
Douglas had gone down midway through the first quarter, before the game had even broken a sweat. She had driven to her strong left hand and took flight for a little runner, coming down awkwardly on her left ankle. Douglas, who had scored 24 points in Game 2 and almost single-handedly forced this rubber match, immediately grabbed her ankle in pain. She put no pressure on the foot while being helped off the court and later would be taken to the local emergency room for X-rays.
The Fever now had a gap in their lineup. And they needed to fill it, quickly. Dunn looked down her bench to forward Shavonte Zellous, who entered the game and hit two quick baskets, putting the Fever back on track offensively. Zellous was strong in Douglas' absence, but Indiana dominated because its entire lineup exploded from beyond the arc in the first half.
Indiana defeated Connecticut 87-71 to win the Eastern Conference title and advance to the WNBA Finals against the Minnesota Lynx. The opening game of that series is scheduled for Sunday in Minnesota (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).
"When Katie went down, you could just see the fire in everybody's eyes," Dunn said in the postgame news conference, speaking only after she strategically placed the Fever's Eastern Conference champions cap on the center of the table. "We could have just folded up the tent when one of our big ones got hurt."
Really, you need to know only two things to understand how the Fever embarrassed the Sun. Indiana started the game 8-for-8 from the 3-point line and finished the game 10-for-16. Connecticut started the game 0-for-11 from the same distance and finished 4-for-18. Those misses might not have mattered so much to the Sun, except the Fever's defensive game plan called for physical double-teams of Connecticut center Tina Charles, the reigning league MVP. As Indiana threw itself into wild rotations, scrambling to force that extra pass, the Sun found themselves open from beyond the arc. Where they missed. A lot.
They missed so much that the crowd inside Mohegan Sun Arena -- which came ready to watch the Sun do what they should have been able to do in Game 2, advance to the Finals -- began groaning in disbelief and frustration. Connecticut did not make a long-range shot until guard Kara Lawson hit back-to-back 3s at the end of the third quarter, which was well after making shots mattered anymore.
"There really isn't a lot to say when you get your butts handed to you like that," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. "It's not a good sign when you're missing your shots and they're making theirs ... and some of the balls we shot didn't even draw iron. It was like the football term, 'Wide right.' But they made everything."
The Fever did all this -- shoot out of their minds, defend with passion -- because their leader, Tamika Catchings, was doing it first. When Douglas went down early in the game, she was forced to stay on the court, in pain, for a full possession before Indiana intentionally committed a foul to stop play. Catchings immediately sprinted over to Douglas, her teammate since 2008, and kneeled on the court to communicate with her. Catchings seemed to understand that Douglas' return was unlikely, especially because Douglas did not put an ounce of pressure on the ankle as she left. "Katie and I, the one thing we share, is that we never give up -- we share that attitude," Catchings said afterward.
Catchings scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. She was also charged, for much of the game, with guarding Charles. In addition, Indiana's starting backcourt of Briann January and Erin Phillips combined for 27 points and seven assists, and the Fever scored 32 bench points. As if piling on, Indiana reserve guard Jeanette Pohlen finished the game with 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field and 4-for-4 from beyond the arc. After the game, Catchings and Dunn said they planned on Douglas' imminent return to the lineup. That is, until they heard differently. "I'm expecting she'll come back with an ice bag on her ankle," Dunn said. "Maybe she'll be on crutches ... for an hour."
While the Fever were busy breaking in the crisp, new, white T-shirts distributed to the Eastern Conference champs, the Sun were sitting with their heads down in the locker room, wondering exactly how this thing imploded so quickly.
"If you told me beforehand that the game would have played out this way, I would have thought you were crazy," Thibault said. "Now, I have to debate whether I want to watch this game tape within the next 24 hours or wait three months."