The build up to last night’s Eastern Conference Finals decider between Indiana and Atlanta was dominated by one person: Tamika Catchings. When she was carried from the floor towards the end of Game 2 in agony, her chances of making an appearance in the final game a scant two days later seemed slim, but the Fever kept making noises about her potentially being available. As tip-off neared, news slipped out that she’d torn the plantar fascia in her right foot but that doctors had cleared her to play. It was the kind of injury that she couldn’t make any worse, so if they could numb it enough and she could play through the remaining pain, she was available. It wasn’t quite Willis Reed, but with their emotional leader and best player available, Indiana looked like they might at least have a shot to make the Finals.
However, Catchings had played practically all the meaningful minutes of Game 2, and the Fever got their butts kicked anyway. It was a 16-point game when she went down with under five minutes left in the game. So Catchings or no Catchings, even back on their own floor, Indiana had a hell of a fight on their hands. With their starting center in Colombia for the FIBA Americas tournament, Atlanta went small in Game 2 and Iziane Castro Marques exploded for 30 points. If the Fever couldn’t deal with the Dream’s quickness better than they had on Sunday, Catchings may as well have stayed at home.
Inevitably, Atlanta opened the game with the same small lineup that ran away from Indiana in the previous game. The Fever brought guard Shavonte Zellous into their starting lineup to replace Catchings, who began the game on a stationary bike on the sidelines, keeping herself warmed up and ready to play. The early possessions revealed other changes made by the Fever in an attempt to alter the outcome. Defensively they had Zellous on Lindsey Harding, Erin Phillips sliding over to take Castro Marques, Katie Douglas chasing Angel McCoughtry and power forward Tangela Smith on speedy wing Armintie Price. It made sense, considering how much trouble Harding had given Phillips in the previous games, the need to keep McCoughtry quiet, and the fact that Price only wants to drive (Smith could sag off into the paint rather than chase her around). The problems were to come from how few occasions they’d have the time to choose who defended whom.
The opening quarter was just like Game 2 – played at far too fast a pace for Indiana to be in control. Continue reading