September 02, 2005

Indiana 58, New York 50

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana's Tamika Catchings and Natalie Williams knew what to expect from the playoff-tested New York Liberty.

Catchings finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Williams had 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Fever to a 58-50 win over the Liberty on Thursday night and a sweep of the first-round playoff series.

The Fever advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time and will face the winner of the Connecticut-Detroit series, with the best-of-three set to begin on Sept. 8.

Becky Hammon scored 14 points for the Liberty, who eliminated Indiana in three games in the Fever's only other playoff appearance in 2002.

``When they beat us in New York, they were so physical. We were just getting beat up,'' Catchings said of the Liberty's playoff win three seasons ago. ``We knew they were going to beat us up again tonight. We just had to keep attacking, and make them do something different.''

Williams said defense made the difference, especially after the Fever missed 20 of 21 shots during the second half.

``What it comes down to is what it has been all year -- defense,'' Williams said. ``We miss 20 or 21 in a row, and our defense saves us.''

She said she was not happy with her performance in Game 1, when she had eight points and four rebounds.

``I made sure to come out and do all the little things, play great defense,'' she said.

The league awarded her for that great defense, naming her defensive player of the year before the game.

``Our Achilles' heel all season has been allowing offensive rebounds, and that came back to bite us tonight,'' Hammon said of the Fever's 14-4 edge in offensive rebounds.

``We dug ourselves such a hole that we had to exert a lot of energy to try to get back in it,'' she said. ``I think once we made our surge, there was not enough left to finish it up.''

Liberty coach Pat Coyle said the Fever's defense made the difference.

``I was surprised we didn't handle the pressure better,'' she said. ``They got us out of a lot of things we wanted to run. They will guard you, rebound and not turn the ball over.''

The Fever led by as many as 14 points in the first half and withstood a late rally, led by Liberty center La'Keshia Frett, who finished with 13 points.

Frett scored nine points, including seven straight, and Shameka Christon scored on a fast-break layup, helping the Liberty outscore the Fever 11-2 for their first lead at 37-35 with 7:50 remaining.

Catchings, who was named the WNBA defensive player of the year before the game, answered with a 3-pointer from the right corner, Miller scored on a fast break and then added a 3-pointer to put the Fever ahead 43-37 with six minutes remaining. Frett hit two free throws as the Liberty pulled within 49-45 with 2:30 to play.

But the Fever outscored New York 9-5 over the last 2 minutes, all on free throws.

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