The Washington Mystics had a chance to even the series at one game a piece, they came very close to achieving that goal. The Indiana Fever won a hard fought Game 2, earning the right to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Fever relied on their playoff and championship (for some players) experience to beat the Mystics 81-76 on Saturday night. Having a Hall of Fame Coach and a future Hall of Fame player certainly didn’t hurt their cause as Coach Dunn and Tamika Catchings played a huge role in the Fever advancing. Tamika made history in this series, passing the great Lisa Leslie twice. Catchings is now the all time leader in both postseason scoring and rebounding.
This game was very similar to all four regular season match ups between these two teams as well as the first game in this series. Looking at the box score, at least at the first half. The Mystics seemed to outplay the Fever, maybe should have been up by double digits at halftime. Washington held the Fever to just 32% shooting from the floor in the half while shooting just under 50 % themselves (47.6%). Instead of a double digit lead, the Mystics found themselves down 30-27 at the half. It came down to the turnovers, the Mystics turned the ball over 17 times to the Fever’s ten. In a game this tight, those turnovers were the reason Indiana was able to not only hang around, but lead for long stretches. One of Washington’s best perimeter defenders went down early in the half, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was ruled out with a right shoulder injury (she didn’t return).
It was very evident from the start of the game that the Fever were prepared to let anyone but Ivory Latta beat them. Latta was blitzed often as soon as she crossed half court, Indiana sped her up to get the ball out of her hands and it paid dividends. Guard Briann January had the individual assignment, but it was truly a team effort to limit Ivory as Coach Dunn stated in the post game press conference. January and company harassed Latta into shooting two of thirteen from the floor, including going 0 for 7 from beyond the arc. Fortunately for Washington, Kara Lawson and Tianna Hawkins came off the bench to shoulder the scoring load.
The Mystics won the third quarter as Latta hit a couple of tough shots, including an incredible high arching floater that touched the highest part of the glass before going into the net. After an offensive foul on January (drawn by Latta), the Mystics went on a short run. They strung several baskets together, leading 42-39 at one point. As usual, Tamika Catchings answered the bell for the Fever during the run. “Catch” was a terror on the glass, collecting 11 caroms on the evening. The Fever led 51-50 in the closing seconds of the third quarter, Latta got the ball to Kalana Greene who drilled a huge triple, putting the Mystics up 53-51.
Erlana Larkins doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but the Fever don’t win this series without her work on the glass. Of her 11 rebounds, six of them were on the offensive end. Giving her team extra possessions and opportunities to score, which was needed as Washington built a three point lead midway through the quarter. Both teams continued to fight, neither showing the willingness to give in or quit. Each team making several hustle plays to extend possessions; Latta airballs a three pointer,Emma jumps out of bounds for the save and Bria drops a great pass to Tianna for the lay in. Washington had an opportunity to take control of the game late in the period when Catchings got called for a travel, but the Mystics responded with a turnover of their own. The Fever would take advantage of the miscue when January drilled a triple over the outstretched hands of Latta to tie the game at 62.
Shortly thereafter, the Mystics would tie the game and than have a chance to take the lead, but came up short on the layup. Catchings got the rebound and dribbled the length of the court for the lay up. with the game tied at 66, Latta got fouled and stepped to the line. She would hit both free throws, the Mystics took a 66-64 lead. The Fever called timeout, to advance the ball to half court. On the inbound, January set a back screen on Hawkins to free up Catchings. Hawkins ran over January and the officials blew the whistle, January went to the line and hit both shots. Latta was unable to get any separation on the iso call, had to settle for a very tough contested shot that didn’t draw iron.
Overtime was all about execution and the lack there of, the Fever were able to generate very good shots, high percentage shots. While the Mystics had to settle for contested jump shots. Catchings drilled a big three for the Fever late in the period, Larkins took advantage of the defense not wanting to leave Catchings and rolled to the basket uncontested for an easy two. Washington was forced to play the foul game late and Indiana knocked down their free throws. The Fever won the series in two games, but it was far from an “easy” sweep. Indiana will get some rest while they wait to see who they play next. Washington has a very very bright future, this won’t be the last anyone sees of them.