Sometimes, even the best-planned parties do not turn out as well as the host anticipates. But Sunday’s did.
Getting a bit exasperated by close losses, cold shooting and never posting a W, the Indiana Fever won its first game of the season by beating the Washington Mystics 89-77 on Tamika Catchings Celebration Day at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Catchings was feted for her induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last weekend, and this time, Indiana home supporters gave her props for her lengthy, all-time great playing career with this WNBA team, as well as nods for her championship seasons with the University of Tennessee and in high school.
Now the vice president of basketball operations for the Fever, Catchings is the one building a new version of the team, alongside coach Marianne Stanley. A winner wherever she played, Catchings was an athlete who takes losing personally.
Before tip-off and the festivities, which included refreshing her retired No. 24 banner in the rafters with “Hall of Fame” embroidery, she was asked if she gets itchy to play as if she could personally dash out on the court and change losses.
“It’s definitely not a good feeling sitting on the sidelines,” Catchings said.
In the end, her Fever made her feel good with Stanley juggling combination and rarely seeming in jeopardy on the scoreboard because of shooting 51.6% from the floor, passing for 26 assists and carrying a 17-point margin into the fourth period.
Teira McCowan, a 6-foot-7 center out of Mississippi State, staked possession of the paint while finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds. At times, she lifted the Fever on her broad shoulders, and it really seemed as if she grabbed more bounds than that.
“My teammates really got me going,” McCowan said. “They told me to get in there and dominate.”
She saluted and did so. If only it could be that easy all of the time.
“Once I got going, all the attention started to come to me,” McCowan said.
For a time, McCowan was the lead singer, but other members of the group brought harmony to the song, especially in the second half, when help was most needed.
Forward Jessica Breland was a second of five Fever players in double figures. Breland made several flashy shots as she amassed 17 points, gathered a quieter 10 rebounds and contributed five assists.
The always-steady Kelsey Mitchell became more productive the longer the game lasted, and she had a team-high 18 points. She is becoming more of a believer in the idea the Fever will be at its best when running, “keep the ball humming. The game is spacing the floor. You’ve got to realize that.”
Danielle Robinson, a heady veteran, added 13 points, many coming late. The Mystics (1-3) got within eight points in the fourth quarter, but Fever forward Victoria Vivians, 11 points, a former college teammate of McCown, made clutch plays to maintain the lead in double figures. Everyone was excited to see her break out.
Stanley used 10 players (two others were hurt), including 2020 No. 1 draft pick Lauren Cox for her first minutes of the year after recovering from injury.
Tina Charles did her best to lead Washington, playing superbly, and concluding with 31 points, but could not counterbalance the Fever’s more diversified attack.
It was time to spike the losing streak, and the all-around win was savored.
“It’s huge,” Stanley said. “Nobody likes to lose. Nobody’s happy when you lose.”
For sure, the Fever — and Catchings — went home happy.