Turning disappointment into a title
After getting cut from Australian national team, Erin Phillips focused on Fever
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana guard Erin Phillips never had to look far for inspiration when she felt a little weary during the WNBA Finals.
"Anytime something started to hurt, I'd glance at Katie," Phillips said of teammate Katie Douglas, who was sidelined by an ankle injury in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Oct. 11. "I knew how much Katie wanted to be out there. You just forget about whatever pain you have. You just go to another level."
Phillips and her fellow Fever backcourt players did that in a major way over the last five games with Douglas out. And it was an enormous part of Indiana winning the franchise's first WNBA title Sunday with an 87-78 victory over Minnesota.
For Phillips, getting a championship became an even bigger goal after she was cut from the Australian team for the Summer Olympics. It appeared that Phillips was essentially "punished" by Aussie coach Carrie Graf for not committing to spend more time preparing with that squad for the London Games -- even though Phillips had missed one complete WNBA season and part of another in the past as she trained with her national team.
Phillips found out in June that she wasn't going to play with the Opals in London -- getting the bad news shortly before she was about to board a flight to return to the United States. So she had a very long time to think about how she was going to handle the disappointment. She decided she was all the more determined to help Indiana get its first WNBA title.
"It's a huge relief," Phillips said, noting that the first person to text her after the game was her mom, who was watching back in Australia. "It definitely was a very tough year for me personally with the national team. But the sacrifice that I made with them was to stay here and prepare to try to win a WNBA championship."
Then she joked, "I can retire now."
Actually, Phillips is only 27, so she still has a lot of basketball in front of her. She is happy to join fellow Aussies such as Seattle's Lauren Jackson and Phoenix's Penny Taylor as a WNBA champion.
"It gives me chills because the other Australians who've won championships are players I've looked up to," Phillips said. "We want to make our country proud and keep a legacy going and set a standard for any other Australian players who get to play in the WNBA."
Phillips averaged 6.1 points during the 2012 regular season, but really turned it on in the playoffs. She became even more valuable when Douglas was hurt early in the clinching Game 3 of the East finals. Phillips had 15 points that night against Connecticut, and ended up scoring in double figures all five games that Douglas missed. Phillips averaged 13.5 points in the WNBA Finals.
"I thought Erin Phillips had one hell of a series," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. "You've got to have somebody other than your star player stepping up. Phillips was consistently a player that made plays, and that's what the Finals are about."
Shavonte Zellous, Briann January, Jeanette Pohlen (who suffered a torn ACL in Game 2 of the Finals but played well before that), and Karima Christmas all stepped forward with Douglas out.
"This was my fourth Finals appearance, and to finally be on the stage and celebrate was an amazing moment," said Douglas, who previously got this far with Connecticut (2004-05) and Indiana (2009). "This time, I just focused on my teammates and trying to be a leader vocally, since I couldn't be out there. It's not what I wanted to have happen [being injured], but I needed to make something positive of my situation."
Certainly, Phillips saw Douglas as an inspiration. Phillips and the other Fever players did their jobs well enough that Indiana had the chance to get Douglas into Sunday's game with about 3 seconds left. The championship was safely wrapped up by then.
Phillips also was pumped up by the spectators at Bankers Life Fieldhouse who wore Fever red and were on their feet for most of the fourth quarter Sunday.
"The crowd gives you so much adrenaline playing in big games like this and you push past pain barriers," Phillips said. "There's no time for nerves or second-guessing yourself. I had to come in and be confident."
Long before she ever moved to Indiana, Phillips was a big fan of one of the most confident shooters you'll ever see: Pacers legend Reggie Miller. When he sent Phillips a tweet before the game, she was about as excited as she was to win the title.
"It was about 4 o'clock and he tweeted at me: He was looking forward to watching me and Tamika [Catchings] play tonight," Phillips said. "I dropped my phone. I had to pick it up and read it again. He's my hero.
"I was like, 'OK, we've got to do this. Reggie is tweeting at me. There's no turning back; he's going to be watching.' It was just awesome."