Fever take WNBA title with 87-78 win over Lynx
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever took claim of its first WNBA championship on Sunday, defeating the defending champion Minnesota Lynx, a team that as much talent as any in league history.
Forward Tamika Catchings, a 12-year veteran searching for her first championship, was named finals MVP.
"When you come into this league, your goal and your dream is to win a WNBA championship." Catchings said. "12 years later from when the dream first started, here we are, and it's been a journey, but it's so sweet right now."
Catchings played like the star she was to rally the team from a 56-56 tie late in the third quarter.
Content to lay low for the first half, Catchings, with a game-high 25 points, took from that point on.
She attacked smaller defenders and passed to open shooters when the Lynx double-teamed her.
Catchings said after she had confidence that her teammates would step up when it came time.
"I just felt like toward the end, from my mindset, knowing that players had an opportunity to step up toward the end of the regular season, they were ready for the playoffs," Catchings said. "When their number got called, they were ready, and you could tell."
Veteran guard Erin Phillips played a key role for the Fever, making big shots on offense and guarding Lynx star Lindsay Whalen on defense.
Phillips finished with 18 points, including 3-of-6 threes.
"Everyone just stepped up," Phillips said. "We gave it everything. They made some huge runs at us and they gave it everything at us, and I'm just relieved more than anything because we deserve this."
Indiana suffered a number of injuries throughout the season, missing various starters for extended periods of time, but the team rallied around the adversity and stepped up in the playoffs.
"A lot of emotional things came into play here that somehow overcame the talent," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "I thought the people we played were so focused in on winning a championship, not only for themselves, but for Catchings, for (guard Katie) Douglas, for (center Tammy) Sutton-Brown."
The Fever controlled the action throughout, taking the lead 6-4 and never trailed again.
They held off every rush from the Lynx, largely because of half-court defense.
Fever guard Briann January marked Seimone Augustus, the 2011 MVP and an Olympic champion, holding her to only 3-of-21 shooting.
With Augustus effectively eliminated, the Lynx could only score when they pushed it to the fast break.
Indiana adjusted and halted the strategy.
With minutes remaining, the only thing standing between the Fever and victory were free throws.
The champs were 11-for-11 in the fourth quarter.
"This season has ended on such a surreal note," Catchings said. "(The sellout crowd) just fueled us up even more, so everybody was ... just giving everything they had."
The Fever reached the WNBA Finals in 2009, and took a 2-1 lead into game 4 at home, but lost to the eventual champion Phoenix Mercury.
Memory of the loss fueled Catchings and the Fever, giving them motivation the defending champs failed to muster.
"Once you have something, it's human nature to not be as hungry as someone else who doesn't have it," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "They had players that made just a few more plays than our group did."
No team has repeated as WNBA champion since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02.
The Fever will enter 2013 as defending champion. For now, the players will revel in Sunday's victory.
"It was just such an amazing game, such an amazing season," Catchings said. "I couldn't ask for more."