Commentary

Zellous puts Fever on brink of title

Originally Published: October 19, 2012
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever had been away from home a long time. They left Oct. 9 after having survived Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals the night before. By the time they returned to Indiana's capital city on Oct. 18, they had won the East title, lost Katie Douglas and Jeanette Pohlen to injuries, won Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, and lost Game 2.

So the 18,165 fans who filled Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday night really couldn't know exactly what they'd see from their Fever. And they never would have expected what they got: A flat-out shellacking of the defending WNBA champions.

The Fever won 76-59, but the final score was deceiving. The tally at the end of the third quarter -- 70-40 -- was much more indicative of how this night went. Fans came to the WNBA Finals, but instead something much more like Baylor/UConn/name-the-college-superpower versus hapless nonconference opponent happened.

[+] EnlargeShavonte Zellous
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireShavonte Zellous scored a career-high 30 points. Her previous best, 25 points, was set back in 2009.

Indiana tried not to notice the scoreboard, but the Fever led by as much as 37 points -- the largest margin in WNBA Finals history. At one point, Fever superstar Tamika Catchings looked over at Douglas in disbelief and said, "Katie, did you see the score? She was like, 'Yeah.' And I was like, 'Wow.'"

Like, wow, indeed. Now Indiana is in the same position it was in 2009 against Phoenix: up 2-1 with a chance to win the championship at home. When that was mentioned to Catchings, she didn't like going in that direction; Indy ended up losing that series 3-2.

"I don't really want to talk about that with this team," she said. "It's time we turn over a new leaf. We [need] to come out Sunday with the same kind of intensity we came out with today. Having our home crowd behind us … Sunday should be the same thing. When you look around and see all that red, it's an unbelievable feeling."

That wasn't the feeling the Lynx had, of course. Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve had a very brief postgame news conference that could be summed up as: "I have nothing to tell you."

The offensive star as the Fever fried the Lynx was Shavonte Zellous, the player who made the shot just before the buzzer that won East Game 2 over Connecticut. That night, Zellous was just 2 of 6 from field.

Friday, she was sublime, finishing with a WNBA career-high 30 points. The Lynx just couldn't stop her. When Zellous hit a long 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 18 seconds left in the third quarter to put Indiana up by 33, things had gotten so ridiculous, you figured it was time for her to try the Meadowlark Lemon halfcourt hookshot.

"She could have closed her eyes and thrown it behind her back," teammate Briann January said. "Man, she was hot tonight."

Zellous said the last time she felt that good shooting in a game was probably her senior season at Pittsburgh. Such as her 42-point performance at Florida in December 2008. The Panthers lost that game, though.

Once Indy got control Friday, she and the Fever ran away from the Lynx. Like Usain Bolt runs away from a giant tortoise. Stunningly, it seemed like that much of a mismatch for large chunks of this game. Who ever would have predicted that?

[+] EnlargeKatie Douglas
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe Fever didn't have Katie Douglas or Jeanette Pohlen, but a capacity crowd of more than 18,000 fans were on hand.

"We had to refocus on the things that won us Game 1, and we did that tonight," Zellous said.

That started with defense and rebounding. January spent a lot of time guarding Seimone Augustus, who was held to six points, while Erin Phillips tried to do her best to harass Lindsay Whalen, who scored seven. The only Lynx player who finished in double figures was Rebekkah Brunson with 12.

"We had to put pressure on them full court," said Phillips, who chipped in 13 points for Indiana. "We just tried to make them work hard every possession. And they tried to do that to us. It wears you down for 40 minutes, but we'll have to do it again Sunday."

Indiana also will have to hit the glass as well as it did Friday. The Fever won the board battle 39-30, led by Erlana Larkins with 15. That was the same rebound total she had in the Fever's 76-70 win in the WNBA Finals opener. It was a good bounce back for Larkins after she had just five rebounds in the Fever's 83-71 loss in Game 2.

"We talked about it as a team -- that rebounding was a key -- and that's also how I get a lot of my points," said Larkins, who scored 10. "I just had a renewed focus and went to the boards really hard tonight."

The Fever led 21-16 after one quarter, and then were up 45-27 at halftime. The third quarter had been when Augustus has come alive in several postseason games, but that didn't happen Friday. The Lynx followed an 11-point second quarter with an 11-point third quarter.

Reeve by then was doing a lot of sitting on the bench smoldering, which actually was more ominous-looking than her Game 2 jacket-tossing. At the end of three quarters, the game was -- for all practical purposes -- over … except, unfortunately, the teams still had to slog through the fourth period.

The best that could be said about that hideous 10 minutes was that nobody got hurt. Indiana scored just six points to Minnesota's 21, but it was irrelevant. Both teams were ready to move onto Sunday's Game 4 (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

That will either send the series back to Minnesota for a decisive final game, or bring the Fever the franchise's first WNBA championship. Fever coach Lin Dunn said the window for Douglas' opportunity to play gets just a little bigger with each passing day as her left ankle heals. But … at this point, it seems fairly unlikely that she will get out on court. It's hard for Douglas to be forced to watch, but games such as Friday's make it a little easier.

"It's not going to be like that Sunday," predicted the wary Catchings, who had 17 points. "It's kind of like, 'Erase this game from the memory, watch video tomorrow and see where we can get better.' And Sunday, it's going to be a totally new game."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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