INDIANAPOLIS — Tamika Catchings hasn’t forgotten how close she came to clearing the biggest hurdle of her basketball career.
Catchings is a seven-time All-Star, five time defensive player of the year and the 2011 WNBA MVP. She also has won three Olympic gold medals, but is still seeking her first league championship.
That almost changed in 2009. The Fever led Phoenix 2-1 in the best-of-five WNBA Finals and played host to Game 4 at home. The city was fired up and ready to celebrate, but the Mercury beat the Fever 90-77, took the series back to Phoenix and won the title at home in Game 5.
Indiana is again on the cusp of the championship after beating Minnesota 76-59 in Game 3 of the finals on Friday to take a 2-1 lead. Once again, the Fever can clinch at home. This time, Catchings will take a different approach.
“Don’t let your highs get you too high and let your lows get you too low,” she said Saturday. “I felt like we celebrated too much after Game 3 in 2009 and we came out in Game 4 and had an opportunity and we let it slip away.”
The Fever are in position to win the title, in part, because of Shavonte Zellous’ career-high 30 points on Friday. Indiana led 70-33 late in the third quarter, the largest lead ever for a team in a finals game.
Catchings expects a tougher contest today.
“I think that, for us, it’s going to be a 40-minute game,” she said. “We’re going to have to come out and play Fever basketball for 40 minutes. We talked about that as a team, just not getting content with where we’re at. We’re 40 minutes away, so we have to come out and stay focused and stay ready.”
A win by the defending champion Lynx – vying to become the first team to win consecutive titles since Los Angeles in 2001 and ’02 – would send the series back to Minneapolis for a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Minnesota was embarrassed by its play in Game 3 but is focused on the fact that it can still win the title.
“We are disappointed with yesterday,” Minnesota forward Rebekkah Brunson said. “That is done and over with. We can’t do anything about that. We have to be optimistic about tomorrow and being able to do what we have to do. We haven’t lost any confidence we still know what we are capable of doing. So we are just going to step on the court tomorrow and prove it.”
Catchings knows how talented the Lynx are – she played with Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen on the U.S. Olympic team at the London Games. Anything less than absolute focus could extend the series.
“We’ve talked about defense, we’ve talked about offense, making a few changes, but really I think the biggest thing is just intensity,” Catchings said.
Fever center Erlana Larkins has had 15 rebounds in each of Indiana’s wins in the series. Larkins said team rebounding will play a role in whether the Fever can end the series on Sunday.
“We have to come out and continue to be in attack mode,” she said. “We have to rebound most importantly and then, secondly, continue to take care of the ball.”
Minnesota took the intensity to the Fever in Game 2, but Indiana was more assertive in Game 3. Whalen said that needs to change in Game 4.
“We need to be coming out with a little more aggressive mindset and mentality,” she said. “You wish you weren’t saying that in the finals, that you have to get up there and be more intense and be more on the ball, but we need to have that. Good thing for us because we have another game tomorrow night to come out here and do better.”
Minnesota outscored the Fever 21-6 in the fourth quarter on Friday. Minnesota hopes to draw from the strong finish, even though the game was clearly decided at that point.
“What we do want to bottle up is the energy and intensity that the second group, the bench players, came in and played with,” Augustus said.
Indiana will be without reserve guard Jeanette Pohlen for the rest of the series. The Fever announced that she tore the ACL in her left knee during Game 2 in Minneapolis. Fever guard Katie Douglas has missed the whole series with a sprained left ankle.
Minnesota didn’t seem concerned about either situation.
“Them being down two players has nothing to do with anything,” Brunson said. “They have been playing well without them. So it’s not like this is something new that just happened for tomorrow night. They have been playing extremely well with the team that they have and they are going to play that way tomorrow.”