INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Katie Douglas dominated her matchup with Cappie Pondexter.
More than anything else, that was why the Indiana Fever clinched their Eastern Conference semifinal series with a 72-62 win over the New York Liberty on Monday. The Fever advanced to host Atlanta on Thursday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Douglas handled Pondexter on both ends of the floor. The Fever guard scored 21 points in Game 3, just under her average of 22 points in the series. She also helped hold Pondexter, one of the league's top scorers, to 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
Pondexter shot 15-for-44 in the series. Indiana coach Lin Dunn praised Douglas' effort.
``She's had a super series,' Dunn said. ``She's attacking, she's scoring, she's defending. You have to give Katie a lot of credit, her assignment was Cappie. When she was in the game, she was on Cappie, and I think she did a really good job of bothering her. She's had a super playoffs.'
Douglas' size and smarts were the key elements that forced the explosive Pondexter into numerous bad shots or prevented her from getting the ball at all.
``For me, it was just important watching a lot of film, knowing her tendencies, just getting into her and not letting her catch the ball, or if she catches the ball, make her catch it outside of her comfort zone,' Douglas said. ``My teammates were great as far as talking to me, letting me know about screens.'
Pondexter had been a thorn in the Fever's side the past two years. She averaged 20.8 points in the 2009 WNBA finals and led Phoenix to a 3-2 win. She went to New York and averaged 27.3 points last year in the East semifinals against Indiana, a 2-1 win for the Liberty.
Pondexter nearly did it again in Game 1, but she missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have won that game for New York.
Douglas got help from her teammates against Pondexter - five different players guarded her at some point during the game.
``She's one of the best 1-on-1 players and best offensively gifted players in this league,' Douglas said. ``I was just happy that we were all locked in and able to just try to make her touches difficult, and when she did touch it, put as much heat on her as possible.'
Indiana's Tamika Catchings, limited to two points on 1-for-8 shooting in Saturday's loss in Game 2, came back with an all-around effort that included 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
``For me I was really disappointed about my performance in Game 2,' she said. ``It's not about having a great game for me as far as from a scoring standpoint. I think our team needs me to have a decent game.'
Dunn said Catchings came through.
``She does everything,' Dunn said. ``She's a wonderful, multidimensional player. I thought we got her involved early offensively. It was a classic Catchings night.
Erin Phillips had 12 points and five steals for the Fever, who scored 26 points off New York's 20 turnovers.
``They did to us what we tried to do defensively,' New York coach John Whisenant said. ``They took away the smooth running of our offense and made us freelance.'
Nicole Powell led New York with 19 points.
Indiana outscored New York 21-7 from the free-throw line.
``The real difference was the free throw line,' Whisenant said. ``We beat them in every statistic, just like the last time here. It's hard to win when the other team gets that many more free throws than you do.'
The Fever led 59-54 with 4 minutes to play when Catchings took over. She hit a 3-pointer, then scored on a putback on Indiana's next possession to push the lead to 10.
Indiana led 40-36 at halftime during a chippy affair that saw Powell and Catchings get called for double technicals.
``Tamika is obviously trying to get us to respond, and I think we did,' Douglas said. ``We were outmuscled and outworked up in (New Jersey) on Saturday, and her setting the tone - she definitely raises the physicalness when she gets into that mode. I was just proud of the way she responded tonight.'
The Fever opened the second half with an aggressive driving layup by Catchings and a baseline jumper by Phillips to take a 44-36 lead. New York went scoreless for the first 3 minutes of the second half, allowing Indiana to take a 49-36 lead.
New York closed the third quarter strong and cut Indiana's lead to 54-48. The Liberty got as close as three points in the fourth quarter, but the Fever responded with their traditional shutdown defense.
``Our defensive intensity, especially in the second half, was great,' Catchings said. ``That's probably the best defensively we've played in a long time.'
The Associated Press News Service
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