The old adage goes "to be the champs you have to beat the champs."
Saturday night, the Fever finally beat the champs.
With seconds remaining in game three of the Eastern Conference finals against the defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock, the Shock's Deanna Nolan missed a jumper and Tamika Catchings, grabbing the rebound, engulfed the ball in her arms. The clock ticked to zero, the buzzer sounded, and Catchings' face exploded with such powerful emotion even the fans standing at Conseco Fieldhouse's highest point could see her joy and relief. Finally.
The Indiana Fever are going to the WNBA Finals.
Tuesday night, the Fever will face the Phoenix Mercury on the road in game one of the best-of-five WNBA Finals. ESPN2 will televise the game beginning at 9 pm. The Fever return home Sunday, Oct. 4 for game three. Tip time is set for 4 p.m. and tickets are currently available at the Conseco Fieldhouse box office and at www.wnba.com/fever. If necessary, game 4 takes place in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Oct 7.
The Phoenix Mercury earned their third trip to the finals by ousting the Los Angeles Sparks. The Mercury took the WNBA championship in 2007, defeating Detroit in five games behind the trio of Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, and Penny Taylor. Taylor sat out the 2008 season and Phoenix floundered, missing the playoffs. With her return, the team captured the league's best record (23-11).
The series will feature a conflict of philosophies. The Fever are the league's staunchest defenders, holding opponents to 73.4 ppg. The Mercury, however, are dropping 93.5 points on their opponents. Four Phoenix players are scoring in double digits, led by Taurasi's 23.4 ppg. They shoot nearly 50 percent from the floor, nearly 40 percent from three-point range, and they aren't careless - averaging just over 11 turnovers a game. If they have a flaw, it's a reliance on Taurasi. Frustrate her, and the Mercury struggle to find a teammate to take over. And Catchings has been frustrating Taurasi since Taurasi entered the league in 2004.
During the regular season, both teams stole a game on their opponent's court. The Fever escaped Phoenix with a 90-83 victory in August. One month later, Phoenix walloped Indiana 106-90 at Conseco, with Katie Douglas injured and watching from the sideline. In both games, a foul-plagued Taurasi averaged 15 points on 44 percent shooting.
For the Fever to be successful in the finals, Catchings must continue tormenting Taurasi. They must control the pace, the team must be focused - no more running the offense like it's a preseason scrimmage (see the second quarter of Saturday's game for evidence. Gaps in concentration still plague the team) - and Indianapolis must cheer them on like they did over the weekend.
And to the thousands of people who saw their first WNBA game during the conference finals - and will hopefully help fill the Fieldhouse during the WNBA Finals - Fever fans are thrilled to share this moment with you. Just promise you'll be back next year.