CHICAGO (AP) — Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever are back in a familiar place, the Eastern Conference finals.
Catchings scored 27 points and Shenise Johnson added 22 to help the Fever beat the Chicago Sky 100-89 in the decisive game of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday night.
It’s the fifth straight year that Indiana has advanced this far, matching the league record set by Los Angeles from 1999-03. This might be the most unexpected one of the streak, especially after dropping Game 1 to Chicago.
“We just talked about having fun,” Catchings said. “Nobody expects us to win, might as well have fun and go out with a bang.”
The Fever relaxed and got their offense going.
Erlana Larkins added 18 points and Marissa Coleman had 17 for the third-seeded Fever, who advanced to face top-seeded New York or fourth-seeded Washington. Those teams conclude their semifinal Tuesday in New York.
Elena Delle Donne led second-seeded Chicago with 40 points, two short of the league’s playoff record set by Angel McCoughtry in 2010, according to STATS. The league’s MVP was 15-of-22 from the field. She averaged 12.5 points in the previous two games.
“I knew Elena was going to have a great game,” Catchings said. “You can’t hold somebody like that with all the weapons she has. We’ve been blessed the last couple games she hasn’t really produced like she did tonight. We did a good job of, if she’s going on off, making sure no one else does.”
Allie Quigley added 18 points and Jessica Breland had 10 for the Sky, who lost to Phoenix in the championship finals last season.
“We’re pretty shocked,” Delle Donne said. “The last game, Indiana got a lot of momentum and they just carried it through into this game. I expect them to carry it through the rest of the playoffs.”
Catchings hit a 3 and Larkins completed a 3-point play for an 81-67 Indiana lead with 7:25 left. Coleman made a 3 with 1:06 remaining for a 93-85 lead to all but seal the win. The Fever hit seven of eight free throws in the final minute.
The Fever shot 10-of-20 from beyond the arc and made 16-of-20 free throws.
“We’ve done a very good job of sharing the ball,” Indiana coach Stephanie White said. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime player in Tamika Catchings, but she’s also 36. We have to do it by committee. Our team has stepped up all season long. We’re unselfish.”
Catchings became the first player in WNBA history to score 1,000 points in the playoffs. She now has 1,019.
“Catch makes them believe things they probably never thought they could do, and that’s what makes her so special aside from her talent,” Delle Donne said.
Indiana went on a 9-2 run to take a 63-52 lead in the third.
Sky coach Pokey Chatman noted Indiana has several players back from injuries since Chicago swept the Fever during the regular season.
“From the very beginning, we allowed Indiana to become very comfortable offensively,” Chatman said.
Chicago won the opener 77-72 before Indiana won the second game 89-82.
“We definitely had confidence after dropping Game 1,” Catchings said. “Looking at the things we did wrong and the things that were correctable, we didn’t box out well. The mindset shifted to controlling the controllables.”