Liberty/Fever Game 1 Recap
Liberty can eliminate defending East champs Sunday.
by Josh Flynn
The last time the Indiana Fever stepped into the hallowed Madison Square Garden, the New York Liberty thumped them 78-58. The Fever were in first place in the East at that point. The loss sent them into a tailspin, a three-game losing streak culminating in an overtime loss at home to Minnesota.
The Fever returned to the Garden for a first round match-up against the Liberty in the 2010 WNBA Playoffs. Once again, they got thumped, losing 85-73. Now the defending Eastern Conference champions return to Indianapolis Sunday night for a must win game two in the best-of-three series. If the Fever lose, they start their vacations.
Indiana took an early 10-point lead in the first half but New York battled back with both teams trading baskets as the intermission drew near. The Liberty took a 1-point lead into the locker room thanks to two Cappie Pondexter free throws. Indiana’s Tamika Catchings fouled the shooting guard with 0.9 seconds remaining. She finished the night with a game high 28 points. Catchings led the Fever in scoring with 18 while adding 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals.
The Liberty controlled the third quarter but struggled to put Indiana away. With 2:15 left, the score tied at 57, Nicole Powell grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a basket. Nearly 30 seconds later, Powell found Essence Carson open for a lay-up. Next, Taj McWilliams-Franklin gave New York a 6-point lead on a jumpshot. Catchings would temporarily close the gap to 63-59 only to see McWilliams-Franklin score on a lay-up and Pondexter hit a free throw to give New York a 66-59 lead at the end of three.
The Liberty steadily built up their lead as the final stanza progressed.
The Fever got steady play from forward Ebony Hoffman (13 points, 3 rebounds) and center Tammy Sutton-Brown (10 points, 4 rebounds), two players who have been minor contributors through out the majority of the season. Jessica Davenport came off the bench for 8 points and 9 rebounds. Katie Douglas, hampered by an ankle injury, was ineffective in nearly 27 scoreless minutes.
McWilliams-Franklin dropped in 15 points and 10 rebounds for New York. Nicole Powell (13 points, 7 rebounds) and Essence Carson (17 points) also helped push the Liberty to victory.
Rebounding continued to plague the Fever. New York controlled the boards 39-25. At times the disparity in rebounding prowess appeared almost comical on the court, with Liberty players finding themselves alone under the basket for an easy, uncontested offensive carom and putback, or the ball danced across fingertips until a Liberty player eventually hauled it in.
Prior to their season-ending losing streak, the Fever had begun to control the boards and the effort paid its dividends in the form of a five game win streak. Against New York, defending their conference crown, Indiana lacked effort, looked as if many of their players packed up for the looming vacation weeks ago. It was apparent in the rebounding alone.
Catchings continued pushing her game to MVP levels, but determination finally appeared to turn into desperation. Her shots became too powerful and leapt off the rim instead of falling gracefully through the basket.
Fever head coach Lin Dunn and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf gambled heading into the season. They chose to keep their team intact, chose not to tamper with a line up so close to a WNBA title in 2009. Some slight changes were made during the season. Tulsa Shock coach Nolan Richardson handed the team Shavonte Zellous. Shay Murphy was waived.
It was a wise gamble, one hard to argue against. But the rest of the Eastern Conference shaped their rosters using the Fever as a measuring stick. While the Fever stayed nearly the same and achieved nearly the same record (the team lost one more game in 2010 than they did in 2009), the rest of the conference caught up and, Sunday night, New York has the chance to surpass them.
The Liberty can bring their storied franchise back to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Fever, on the other hand, must decide if they want to play. Catchings’ teammates must decide if they want to support their MVP candidate, to walk onto the Conseco Fieldhouse court prepared to expend every bit of energy they contain in their bodies. They must decide if they want to return to Madison Square Garden, to create their own moment of New York magic.
Or maybe its just time to pack those bags, call it a day, and let the restructuring begin.