Nationals

Catchings and Fever beat Lynx for first WNBA title

201210212156789692648-p2.jpeg

Catchings and Fever beat Lynx for first WNBA title

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Fever made it their mission to get Tamika Catchings a WNBA championship.

Catchings had won three Olympic gold medals and an NCAA championship at Tennessee in 1998, but never one in the WNBA. She scored 25 points to help the Indiana Fever win their first WNBA title with an 87-78 victory over the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday night.

While Catchings was impressive, Erin Phillips and Erlana Larkins played the best basketball of their careers in the Finals to help their leader complete the circle.

``Everybody talks about the missing piece in Tamika Catchings' career, and our players took that personally,'' Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. ``I really believe that was an incentive.''

Even Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, public enemy No. 1 in Indiana for her outbursts and interactions with the fans, felt Catchings deserved to win a title.

``There's not anybody that cannot be happy for Tamika Catchings to finally get a championship,'' Reeve said. ``We were trying to keep her from getting it, but it didn't happen, and now that she's got it, she's easy to be happy.''

Catchings, who was the MVP of the Finals, averaged 22.3 points in the series, which the Fever won 3-1 over the defending WNBA champions.

She had been in a position to clinch at home before. The Fever led Phoenix 2-1 in the best-of-five WNBA Finals in 2009, but the Mercury beat the Fever 90-77, took the series back to Phoenix and won the title at home in Game 5.

This time, Catchings took it home with Pat Summitt, her coach at Tennessee, looking on in the crowd. The two shared a long hug after the victory. She shed a lot of tears in the postgame celebration.

``When you come into this league, your goal and dream is to win a WNBA championship,'' said Catchings. ``Twelve years later . it's so sweet right now.''

Phillips had 18 points and eight rebounds, while Shavonte Zellous and Briann January each had 15 points.

The Fever won even though No. 2 scorer Katie Douglas missed most of the series with a severely sprained left ankle. Douglas checked in for the first time in the series with 3.2 seconds left in Game 4 to a loud ovation.

Minnesota was trying to become the first team to repeat since Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002.

``It was hard being the hunted, as we all know,'' Reeve said. ``There's a reason this hasn't been done in over 10 years. I really felt like if there was a team that could do it, it was our team.''

Indiana held Minnesota below 40 percent shooting in all three wins.

``They played good defense,'' Minnesota guard Lindsay Whalen said. ``They contested shots and they made it tough for us to get in the lane a little bit. I think that was the theme of the whole series. They were just tough, and give them credit for the way they played.''

Indiana led 63-58 at the end of the third quarter. Minnesota cut Indiana's lead to 70-67 on a jumper by Maya Moore, but Phillips scored on a drive past Moore, got a defensive rebound, then found Zellous for a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Fever a 75-67 lead with 4:58 remaining.

Indiana led by at least five points the rest of the way. A 3-pointer by January gave Indiana an 80-72 lead with 1:18 to play. Reeve was called for a technical with 57.6 seconds remaining, Catchings made the free throw and the Fever took an 81-74 lead. Zellous made two more free throws with 27.2 seconds to play, and Fever fans began celebrating.

Seimone Augustus, Minnesota's leading scorer in the playoffs, was held to eight points on 3-for-21 shooting. She shot 6-for-30 in the final two games of the series after the Fever switched January over to guard her.

Catchings said January, who was on the WNBA first-team all-defense squad, did her job.

``I think she set the tone,'' Catchings said. ``All (Augustus') baskets were hard. She used up all her energy in the first quarter.''

Whalen scored 22 points and Moore added 16 points for the Lynx, who were vying to become the first team to win consecutive titles since Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002.

Moore picked up her third foul with 6:13 left in the second quarter. Reeve, who was fined for her jacket-tossing tantrum in Game 2, became animated again while disagreeing with the call. As the crowd erupted, Reeve waved hello and made the motion for a technical foul.

This time, Reeve's antics didn't help much as in Game 2, when her team pulled away from a tight contest for a convincing win. Minnesota tied the game three times in the second quarter, but the Fever closed with a 7-2 run, including a 3-pointer by Phillips, to take a 47-42 lead at halftime. Whalen scored 14 points in the first half to keep the Lynx in the game, often scoring on uncontested drives. Minnesota hung tough, despite Augustus shooting 2 for 13 in the first half.

It was right there for the Fever.

``Coming into halftime, we said we have 20 minutes and we're not trying to go back to Minnesota to close this thing out,'' Zellous said.

Indiana started the second half on a 9-4 run, including two buckets by Catchings, to take a 56-46 lead.

Minnesota came right back. A driving layup by Moore cut Indiana's lead to 56-54 and forced the Fever to call timeout.

Minnesota tied the game on another drive by Moore, but the Fever responded with a 3-pointer by Catchings and a basket by Jessica Davenport to push the lead back to five by the end of the quarter.

Indiana then closed the deal at home in front of a sellout crowd.

``They made some huge runs at us and gave it everything at us, and I'm just relieved more than anything because we deserve this,'' Phillips said. ``We've been through so much as a team, we've lost in crucial times and we've stuck together. I'm just so proud right now.''

Quick Links

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

usatsi_10908133.jpg
USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.

Quick Links

Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

smith_gruden_usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith. 

"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith. 

While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology. 

Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period. 

"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."

Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday. 

Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates. 

"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."

The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.

"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."

Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong. 

Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins. 

The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)

Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays. 

It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks. 

The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

#REDSKINSTALK PODCAST

Don't forget to subscribe to the #RedskinsTalk podcast, hosted by JP Finlay.

Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below.