UNCASVILLE ——This was not a night when finesse would do much for the Connecticut Sun. The more direct approach was required.
The Indiana Fever punched hard and often in the first quarter of the first game of the Eastern Conference finals, building an eight-point lead with a shower of threes and aggressive play.
But the effort seemed to drain Indiana's tank with a long way still to travel.
Once it was able to recover, Connecticut took control, tightening defensively, converting on the money end and rolling to a satisfying 76-64 win at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
"A win is a heckuva of a way to start the series," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "But it a tough, physical game by both teams."
The Sun had four players in double figures, led by league MVP Tina Charles, who scored 18, with 14 coming in the second half. Charles added 15 rebounds.
Kara Lawson added 16, Tan White scored 13 and Asjha Jones had 11.
Katie Douglas led the Fever with 27. The former Sun All-Star and member of their all-decade team had five threes. But her night ended with enough frustration to earn a technical in the final two minutes.
"I like it here in Connecticut," Douglas said. "I played here for five years. I am very comfortable with the rims, the lighting, the floor, everything a shooter kind of needs. I was just feeling good, and my teammates were getting me open."
Now the teams move on to Indianapolis, where Game 2 will be played Monday at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse (ESPN2, 8 p.m.).
The Sun won the critical rebounding battle, 30-25. And they were 19 of 20 from the free throw line, as opposed to 9 of 12 for the Fever.
Connecticut won three of the four meetings with Indiana this season. But the one defeat was huge: a 95-61 misstep in Indianapolis on June 21, the Sun's biggest loss of the season. The Fever made 15 of 24 threes, led 57-30 at the half and generally made the Sun look sick across the board.
That's worth mentioning because the Fever drained four threes in the first quarter to build a 22-14 lead. Douglas had two of them and scored 10.
"We were not completely locked into the game plan," Thibault admitted. "But we corrected things in the second quarter."
But much has changed with the teams in the past three months, especially with the Fever, who have benefited in the past week from the large contributions of Erlana Larkins, who played just eight minutes that night.
Larkins, the former North Carolina standout, expressed her readiness to joust with Charles and Jones by scoring 16 points with 20 rebounds in Indiana's deciding win over Atlanta in the first round.
In doing so, Larkins became just one of three WNBA players to have at least 20 rebounds in a playoff game. It was an emphatic statement: Game on.
Larkins was in the middle of a physical first half. The Sun fell behind 27-19 before beginning an 11-2 run with three Lawson free throws.
Jones, playing in her record 32nd postseason game with the Sun, scored with 56 seconds remaining in the half to give Connecticut a 30-29 lead before Tamika Catchings' free throw tied it.
Indiana's aggressiveness on defense may have been enough to keep the gap wide had it not cooled off so badly on offense. After making 7 of their first 12 shots, the Fever ended the half on a 5 of 24 skid that helped the Sun recover.
"I don't think it was a different approach," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "You make your shots, you score 22 points [in a period]. You miss them, you score eight [as they did in the second]. But let's give Connecticut's defense some credit."
At the end of that class was Catchings. She was 1 of 7 in the first half — a three to give the Fever a 3-0 lead — and then missed 11 of her next 12 before finally scoring another hoop with 8:15 to play. She scored seven points (2 of 14) in 36 minutes.
Douglas, who seemed to score so effortlessly in the first, was handled with more care after as she tried to move to open shots. She was held to just four points in the second and third quarters.
As a result, the Sun began to rise. Charles picked up the pace inside in the third, scoring 10 to help the Sun build their biggest lead at the time, 52-43.
"I would necessarily say it was a slow start," Charles said. "They were double-teaming me, and it was just a matter of reading the defense and deciding what to do. I wasn't going to force shots."