Tamika Catchings gets up with SLAMonline about Indiana’s title run.
by Christian Mordi / @mordi_thecomeup
The Indiana Fever could have rolled over. There were plenty of reasons given for the Fever to give up on the series from the door. For starters, they were going up against the defending champs. The Minnesota Lynx were the best team in the regular season with a 16-1 home court record. To make matters worst, going into Minnesota for a two-game stand, Indiana was without their second leading scorer, Katie Douglas.
Yet the Fever did not falter. Indiana came into Minnesota with the same gameplan as they have had all year, and executed flawlessly in Game 1. The Lynx faithful watched as they saw a team outside of their own clicking on all cylinders on the offensive side of the floor, and relentless on the defensive side.
Adults moaned, children wept and Coach Reeve ripped a jacket to shreds—all due to the Fever’s stellar play in the opening games of the series.
The Fever frontcourt set the tone early in this series. While sportscasters talked about the tenacity of Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the grit and toughness of Indiana was overlooked.
In came Erlana Larkins, possibly the best story of the WNBA playoffs. The former Tar Heel spent a couple years overseas before finally finding a home in Indiana. When many teams said what she couldn’t do and cut Larkins, Coach Dunn focused her energy on what she could, instilling confidence in the young center.
During an interview with SLAMonline, Tamika Catchings again brought up her confidence in Larkins.
“She made great strides during the Olympic break and personally I just kept talking to her and letting her know that she is here for a reason, and to not feel like you don’t belong or have a role,” Catchings said.
Larkins ran with Catchings’ kind words and was dominant on the boards in finals, with double-figure rebound nights in three of the four games.
Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks? Despite being a veteran coach in the WNBA, Coach Dunn displayed palpable growth on the sidelines.
“We were a naturally aggressive team, and coach did a great job throughout practice focusing energy on different things,” Catchings said. “She managed the time and got us in and out of practice, which had not been the case in previous years, which allowed us to rest of bodies and utilize our strength when needed most.”
Coach Dunn was steady throughout the playoffs, as her team was rarely out of position and executed out of time out situations better than any team in the postseason.
If anyone knew how tough Catchings was, it was her former coach Pat Summitt.
“When I first got to Tennessee, defense wasn’t my forte, my older sister was the better defender,” Catchings said. “One of Coach Summitt’s rules was if you didn’t play defense, you didn’t play. That didn’t sit well with me, so I was forced to grow.”
Catchings credits Summit for pulling out a passion for defense in her, which has become a staple of Fever basketball. When asked during halftime about her former star in Catchings, coaching legend Pat Summit said, “She is truly a special player, dominant on both sides of the floor. Tamika is one of a kind. It is an honor to watch her play.”
In a series with so much star power, it was the lesser-known players who reigned terror in the Finals.
Briann January was cool as a cucumber under pressure. Catchings felt that January got overshadowed by the play of Katie Douglass and herself, but was a key piece this year to the Fever.
“Bri was a key missing piece last year. She came in this year and really committed to defense,” Catchings said.
A key moment for the team was in the pre-game talks about the Atlanta series and how the Fever set up their gameplan.
Said Catchings: “Harding was killing us all year and we had to find a way to stop her and this one move she had. Bri took that assignment to heart, and stepped up.”
That set the tone and gave the team the confidence to call on January again in Game 3 against the Lynx as she shut down Seimone in a blowout victory for the Fever. “I bet ‘Mone went home and had dreams about her, that’s how tight the defense was,” Catchings said.
In what was one of the most entertaining WNBA postseasons to date, Indiana seized the moment every time their number was called. They executed coaching whiz Lynn Dunn’s gameplan.
There was no cure for the Fever this year.