September 01, 2005

Indiana 63, New York 51

NEW YORK -- Tully Bevilaqua showed why the Indiana Fever signed her away from the defending champions in the offseason.

Tamika Catchings had 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Bevilaqua added 14 points -- including a key 3-pointer with 1:33 left -- to lead the Fever over the New York Liberty 63-51 Tuesday night in the opener of their first-round WNBA playoff series.

``She has the ability to step her game up in big games,'' coach Brian Winters said. ``She did that last year in Seattle when Sue Bird went out. She showed how good she was. When Sue couldn't play with her broken nose, she came in and played extremely well.''

Deanna Jackson had nine points, including a pair of tiebreaking free throws with 2:59 remaining as Indiana closed the game with a 14-2 surge after the Liberty came back from a 10-point deficit.

Game 2 in the best-of-three series is Thursday night at Indianapolis.

Bevilaqua, who won the title with the Storm a year ago, took a charge from New York's Becky Hammon 11 seconds after Jackson gave Indiana the lead. Catchings made two free throws with 2:35 left, and Bevilaqua hit her 3 just before the shot clock expired a minute later to push the lead to seven points and the Liberty got no closer than five thereafter.

``She hit that shot when we needed it,'' Catchings said.

Vickie Johnson had 17 points and Hammon nine -- all in the first half -- for the Liberty. Elena Baranova added seven points and seven rebounds.

``We didn't buckle down on the defensive end,'' Johnson said. ``We didn't take care of our individual defense. We had to give too much help, so we left shooters open.''

Making just its second postseason appearance, Indiana has the next two games -- if necessary -- at home to advance to the conference finals. In 2002, the Fever won the opener of their first-round series at home against the Liberty, but then lost the next two games at New York.

``We can be happy tonight, but tomorrow we have to come back and get back to business,'' Catchings said. ``Everyone has to stay mentally focused.''

After shooting 49 percent in the first half, the Liberty were just 7-for-23 from the field after the break.

``We have to get to the offensive glass,'' Hammon said. ``We didn't crash the boards when we should have. We settled for jumpers instead of getting to the line.''

The Liberty took a 29-27 lead on Johnson's driving layup 15 seconds into the second half.

Jurgita Streimikyte made a layup and hit a jumper to start a 16-4 spurt over the next eight minutes and give the Fever a game-high 10-point lead.

New York then started climbing back. Erin Thorn made a layup and Cathrine Kraayeveld hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 43-38 with 9:02 left.

After Kraayeveld hit two free throws to make it 45-40 with 7:42 remaining, Catchings missed a 3 and two free throws on consecutive possessions. Johnson's three-point play cut the lead to two with 6:10 left.

Catchings' jumper pushed the Fever's advantage to 49-44 nearly two minutes later. But Crystal Robinson made both shots from the line, and Baranova hit a tying 3 with 3:21 left.

``I thought we were right in the game,'' Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. ``We did a pretty good job to get back into the game, and then we made some mistakes. We can't have it in playoff time. We made crucial mistakes at times when we couldn't afford it.''

Indiana hit 11 of 12 free throws in the final three minutes to take the game.

The Liberty used a 10-0 run, capped by Hammon's jumper, to take a 22-14 lead with 7:24 left in the first half.

After Natalie Williams hit a pair of free throws for Indiana, Hammon made a 3 to give New York a nine-point lead -- its biggest of the game -- with 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the half.

The Fever scored nine straight points and tied it at 25 on Bevilaqua's 3-pointer with 40 seconds to go half. Baranova made two free throws 10 seconds later, and Catchings had an alley-oop layup with 9 seconds left to tie the score at 27 at the break.

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