(Guru's note: Here's the AP advance from Indy for Game 3. The Guru will be D.C. bound to USA training camp looking for to pull an early Amtrak synch with the AP guy getting on father up the line in NYC.)
By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Fever were welcomed home by hundreds of screaming fans on Friday, a day after their win at Phoenix in Game 2 evened the WNBA finals.
If the Fever have their way, they won’t board another flight this season. Indiana could clinch its first championship with two wins at home in the best-of-five series. The Fever defeated the Mercury 93-84 in Game 2 on Thursday night, and they will try to carry the momentum into Game 3 on Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Fever likely will need All-Star forward Tamika Catchings to avoid foul trouble if they are to celebrate at Conseco after Game 4 on Wednesday. Catchings had just eight points before fouling out with 2:42 left in overtime during a 120-116 loss in Game 1, but she bounced back with 19 points, a finals-record 11 assists and nine rebounds in Game 2. She fell one rebound shy of the first triple-double in WNBA finals history.
“I think the biggest thing for me was being able to be on the court for my team, and then definitely being more aggressive, going to the basket instead of settling for jump shots,” Catchings said.
Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said his team hasn’t played to its potential in the series. He said the difference between the first two games was simple.
“They were more aggressive than us and we missed shots,” he said.
The Fever lost the highest-scoring game in league history in Game 1, then returned to what got them to the finals in Game 2. All-Star guard Katie Douglas said the game plan didn’t change, but the execution and intensity improved.
“I think it was just the energy, the focus we had, the concentration on the defensive end,” Douglas said. “We just played with a lot more concentrated effort as a unit.”
Phoenix’s quick-strike offense has given Indiana trouble. The Fever led by 10 points with 1:53 left in the first quarter of Game 1, but lost that advantage by the end of the period, and the game went back-and-forth the rest of the way. In Game 2, the Fever led by 17 in the third quarter. Phoenix made a push, but never got closer than five points.
Phoenix is known for wearing teams down with its up-tempo style, but Catchings said the pace hasn’t been an issue for Indiana, and won’t be during the series.
“As much as we run in practice, I feel like we’re in great shape,” she said. “If you look at our team, we actually run quite a bit.”
Catchings, the league’s defensive player of the year, has been a reason league MVP Diana Taurasi has gone 12 for 39 for Phoenix in the series. Gaines wouldn’t say if Taurasi or Catchings was more responsible for his star’s shooting woes.
“We know Catchings is a great defensive player, and we know Taurasi is a great scorer,” Gaines said. “Why is (Taurasi) missing shots? It’s a matter of how you look at it.”
Taurasi’s sidekick, All-Star Cappie Pondexter, was 5 for 16 in Game 2. Catchings noted that Pondexter did what she wanted during much of the last game, but didn’t finish.
“We have to be more committed to keeping people out of the middle,” Catchings said. “Cappie, down the stretch, got to the middle way too much.”
Part of Indiana’s defensive strategy in Game 2 was to be patient on offense and make Phoenix play at an uncomfortable pace.
“We have to do what we did last game,” she said. “If they score a couple baskets, we have to slow it down, we have to pound the ball inside.”
Phoenix forward Penny Taylor is expected to play in Game 3 after being elbowed in the mouth during Game 2. Gaines said Taylor was doing fine after receiving treatment and will be ready to resume her role off the bench.
The Fever were all business on Thursday, showing no sign of celebration after their win in Phoenix. For just a few moments after their return Friday, Catchings and Douglas allowed themselves to enjoy the adulation that the team only recently has started to receive from fans. The reception at the Indianapolis International Airport offered a boost for the weary team.
“It definitely woke me up,” Douglas said. “I was kind of tired. There’s an energy and excitement, and people are now embracing this team.”