11:49 PM EDT, October 5, 2012
Seventy-five seconds into the WNBA Eastern Conference finals, Tamika Catchings was going to score 75 points, grab 75 rebounds and block 75 shots.
Catchings, one of the three best women's basketball players on the planet, blocked an Asjha Jones shot, hit a three-pointer, pulled in two rebounds and found Katie Douglas with a 70-foot outlet pass that led to one of her 11 baskets. All in 75 seconds.
"And if she did that the whole game," Jones said after she had gone a long way in holding Catchings to a season-low seven points in a 76-64 Sun victory over the Fever, "we'd really be in trouble."
Funny things happen in the biggest games. Sometimes the biggest names go cold. Sometimes they have awful shooting nights after big starts. And sometimes the not-so-big names make contributions in the biggest monents that help craft a game's outscome and ultimately define a season.
Color this physical, defensive-oriented game 2-for-14 shooting by Catchings.
And also color this one Tan White.
Thanks to the career re-emergence of Erlana Larkins the Fever rolled into this series on a rebounding high. That was one thing that concerned Mike Thibault coming in, and so did the free-throw differential. Well, the Sun did just fine in both areas, outrebounding Indiana 30-25 and going to the foul line eight more times. The Sun finished 19-for-20, while the Fever were 9-for-12.
The Sun had some offensive breakdowns in the first quarter in falling behind 22-14. They left Douglas open too many times. The bad stuff changed by halftime. A huge thing was Catchings missed 11 consecutive shots until she hit on a layup in the fourth quarter. A huge thing was the Fever shot 3-for-19 in the second quarter.
Yes, Douglas burned the Sun for 27 points. And Catchings is a force on both ends of the floor. She burns with desire. She had nine rebounds, five assists, but she went ice cold on this night, too. What all did the Sun do?
"I wouldn't tell you," Thibault said.
"I'll tell you when the series is over," Kara Lawson said. "I can't be giving that away before Game 2."
Some of that, of course, is playoff hi-jinx. In hockey, teams love to say they see a weakness in a goalie, whether it's true or not.
"[Catchings] will bounce back," Thibault said. "We made her work to catch the ball and tried to make her uncomfortable every time she caught it. Sometimes we brought help. Sometimes we didn't. We tried to keep them guessing a bit. And sometimes players just have those games.
"Asjha did a terrific job tonight. That's a classic battle. You're talking about two of the best power forwards in our league going head to head. It was a key matchup."
And this from the 2012 league MVP and one of the three best players on the planet:
"We just played hard in the lane," said Tina Charles, who led the Sun with 18 points and 15 rebounds. "Knowing that [Catchings[ likes to penetrate and that in the [playoffs] she really hasn't been shooting it well, knowing she'll be looking to drive it."
"She's tough, because she's pretty much a 3 playing 4," Jones said. "They run a lot of plays where they kind of draw you away from the basket, her handling it. I tried to stay between her and the basket as much as I could. We settled into our defense. We tried to contest every shot."
What makes Catchings, the 2011 league MVP, so difficult to contain, Lawson said, is not just her shot or the initial play.
"She just keeps coming time after time, just relentless on the glass," Lawson said. "It was a group effort. Let's be honest. She missed some shots she normally makes. I can't say it was lock-down, but we made it difficult for her."
Catchings shot 2-for-11 in Game 1 against Atlanta, it should be noted, and then went off for 25 in the next game.
"We did to step up and hit shots, including me," Catchings said. "We missed too many layups."
"She'll come back like crazy in Game, 2, we know that," Lawson said. "We've just got to make her work for every shot."
Fever coach Lin Dunn looked at the stat sheet and saws others with lousy shooting nights.
"Maybe it's contagious," she said.
"Catch plays so hard on both ends of the floor," Dunn said. "Does she usually miss this many open shots? It seems unusual. She'll bounce back. We've also won games when she wasn't the second- or third-leading scorer."
White, meanwhile, is a staunch defender for the Sun. The fact that White was able to score 13 points in 24 minutes, including three three-pointers, to give the Sun four double-digit scorers was huge. The fact that she was once cut by the Fever and has made enough of a career with the Sun to be named to their all-decade team is sweet revenge.
"I think Indiana predicates their defense a lot of times leaving somebody open to try to take away somebody else," Thibault said. "Tonight, for a long stretch, Tan made them pay. Historically, she played well against them. I'm sure she enjoys going back against her old team. She has been very locked in the last couple of weeks. It takes a lot of pressure of our post people when you have players like that knocking down big shots."
"She always plays big against Indy," Lawson said. "We always tease her in shoot-arounds that this is an Indiana game and she's going to come out hitting shots.
"There are certain openings, the way they play, certain things are going to be open and certain players are going to be open. Tan took that as a challenge to attack. When the ball swings to the weak side, you see [them] double our posts hard."
When there's a 2-on-1 in one spot, that means there's a 1-on-2 somewhere else.
"Tan on the backside, corner three, driving in the lane was big for us," Lawson said.
Not only did White hit threes, some of her baskets answered Indiana hoops. Her team-high eight points in the fourth quarter blunted any Fever hopes. That's the way it goes in the playoffs. Teams decide they are going to take away certain things. Teams decide they are going to deny certain players. You play hard. You play at a risk.
For her part, Dunn said, she wants to get Larkins more looks, wants to take away five of the Sun's second-chance points, hit four or five more shots, get to the line more.
"And that's how we're going to win the second game," Dunn said.
Whatever the Sun did to Catchings Friday night, whatever she did to herself shooting, the result was a great player's worst offensive output of the season. And whatever the Fever did to defend Charles and Jones, well, it resulted in a vital night by Tan White.
Color it Tan. Color it a 1-0 series lead heading to Indiana.
Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant