In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m 6-0 predicting the series winners in the playoffs so far. Largely speaking, that’s come simply from taking the clear favourite – the team most people would’ve backed. The two instances where that may not have been the case were both with Indiana. Many felt they’d fall to Atlanta in the first round considering the Dream’s playoff success in the last couple of years, and with home-court advantage Connecticut were certainly considered favourites in the Eastern Finals. But for whatever reason, my gut had faith in the Fever, and they came through. So if anyone’s going to take Indiana in the Finals, it would have to be me, right?
From the opening weeks of the season, I’ve spent much of the year admitting I was wrong about the Fever in the preseason. I still thought they’d be good, but I hated the idea of moving Catchings to power forward. Now, I feel like it’s everyone else who’s underestimating Indiana. There seems to be a general view that they’re the lambs to Minnesota’s slaughter, a team that made the Finals thanks to Atlanta’s dysfunction and a freak shooting performance against Connecticut. The injury to Katie Douglas has just cemented opinion that the Lynx are nailed on to repeat. But that’s not giving Indiana enough credit.
Statistically, the Fever were the best team in the Eastern Conference this season, even if it didn’t result in a record that put them above the Sun. Tamika Catchings is a force of nature, and arguably had more of a right to the MVP award this season than last (when she actually won it). The offense may not always be pretty, but they’ve shown in this postseason run that they can get the job done more than one way. The barrage of outside shots that created a large percentage of their points all season returned in the final victory over Connecticut, but there was a huge amount of driving and penetration right to the rim in their victories over Atlanta. Defense is still their trademark, and even with undersized posts their activity and teamwork defensively is incredibly effective, but they can score as well these days. They’re not here by accident.
The problem is, Minnesota are still an exceptional team. In many ways they’re even better than last year, and now they’re coming in with the experience and confidence that they lacked in 2011. They’ve had lapses this season, even a couple of stretches where some wondered if the league had figured them out, and yet they still finished the regular season 27-7. Including a 16-1 record at home – where three of these Finals games will take place (if necessary). They’ve managed to fight through various minor injuries while avoiding any major debilitating ones. The team defense is still sharp and assured. Whalen’s as good as ever, Augustus is still a nightmare offensively, Moore is a more well-rounded player than 12 months ago, Brunson still relentless on the glass, and McWilliams-Franklin continues to defy Father Time. It’s an All-Star team that’s been working as a unit for two years.
So even as a Fever believer, I still have to work hard to talk myself into the Fever for this series. Of course, that was the case with Seattle in the first round as well, and they came one shot away from dumping this Lynx team out at the first hurdle. But even for me, the Douglas injury was the final nail. She might be back, but if she is it’s unlikely to be at 100%, and losing a player that important for a series against such a dangerous opponent is hard to overcome. I think Indiana are good enough to make this a hard-fought, competitive series, even if Douglas is out. I can’t wait to watch Larkins battle Brunson on the glass, and Indiana’s swarming defense try to limit Augustus and Moore. But I just can’t see the Fever winning a best-of-five against a team as talented and strong as the Lynx. So…
Minnesota 3-1. Catchings won’t let her team go down without a hell of a fight, and they can easily take a game (or maybe two), but the Lynx are just too good.
WNBA Finals Schedule
Sunday October 14th:
Indiana @ Minnesota, Game 1, 8pm ET
Wednesday October 17th:
Indiana @ Minnesota, Game 2, 8pm ET
Friday October 19th:
Minnesota @ Indiana, Game 3, 8pm ET
Sunday October 21st:
Minnesota @ Indiana, Game 4 (if necessary), 8pm ET
Wednesday October 24th:
Indiana @ Minnesota, Game 5 (if necessary), 8pm ET