The Minnesota Lynx will have to wait a few more days to scout their eventual WNBA Finals opponent.
The “blame” can be placed on Indiana Fever guard Shavonte Zellous, who drained a long jumper with 0.5 seconds left in regulation, giving the Fever a 78-76 win Monday night over the Connecticut Sun in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals.
With the series tied at one game each, both squads will return to Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday to determine who will face Minnesota, starting next Sunday.
The final sequence was a microcosm of the tilting spurts between the two clubs. With 12.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Sun guard Allison Hightower hit a jumper while getting fouled by Indiana forward Erlana Larkins, matching the score at 76.
“I really was surprised that Hightower was able to get to the rim,” said Indiana head coach Lin Dunn.
Hightower missed the free throw, and Fever forward Tamika Catchings got the rebound. She found Briann January on the outlet, but January missed a layup in transition. January raced back in-bounds to tip the loose ball to Zellous, who stood still on the left wing in preparation to celebrate. Zellous maneuvered past two Sun defenders who collided with each other and hit a 13-foot jumper to save the Fever from potential elimination.
Zellous finished the game with four points and four rebounds, but she energized the 9,225 fans in attendance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and perhaps overshadowed the strong showings from Catchings and Katie Douglas, the Fever’s star duo.
“One-two dribble pull-up. That’s what we see (Zellous) do all the time in practice,” Catchings said.
Douglas had a game-high 24 points, surprising some of the media members in attendance with successful drives in both directions (Douglas is left-handed). The series is noteworthy for Douglas because of the many playoff appearances she made during her five season at Connecticut, where she was guided by current Sun head coach Mike Thibault.
“Give coach Thibault some credit, he taught me how to play the pick-and-roll,” Douglas said. “They’re trying to force me away from the screen, they’re trying to switch. I just learned, over the years, my counters to that.”
Catchings scored 21 points, although 17 of them came in the first half. It was more than enough to shake off her game one ghosts, when she made only two of 14 shots for seven points.
The last-second dramatics would never have taken place without an opportunistic Indiana defense. They scored 21 points off 15 Connecticut turnovers and only gave up nine points off eight turnovers.
“If we have to do anything better, it’s finding (Kara) Lawson. A couple times in transition, we lost track of her,” Dunn said.
Lawson was her accurate self, getting 18 points for the Sun. Asjha Jones added 17 points and 10 rebounds, hitting seven of 10 field goals. Tina Charles had 15 points and eight rebounds, but didn’t find the same success of her teammates.
“This is what you expect from playoff basketball. One bounce went their way and they made one more play than we did,” Lawson said.
Both teams are aware of what awaits them for the Finals. Naturally, neither side discussed the prospect of facing Minnesota, as any speculation would be rendered invalid without a victory in the third and deciding game of this series. The only certainty is the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals will start their championship run on the road, as Minnesota earned home-court advantage with their 27-7 regular season record to pace the league.
Indiana may have bigger concerns to deal with. Including the playoffs, they have lost all three meetings at Mohegan Sun Arena, but such stats are usually tossed in a post-season atmosphere.
“I’m expecting a war when we go up there. We are very confident we can go in there and win,” Dunn said.