INDIANAPOLIS - Entering Game 2 of the WNBA Eastern Conference finals, the Liberty had never won a playoff game on the road against the Indiana Fever. It had experienced five straight heartaches at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the downtown Indianapolis arena where the Liberty's playoff hopes have gone to die.
Make it six.
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After taking an 18-point lead in the second quarter, the Liberty collapsed Sunday, scoring only 20 second-half points in a 70-64 loss to Indiana.
"They just played harder than us in the second half. That's the bottom line," Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said after watching his team get outscored 28-11 in the fourth quarter and 7-0 in the final 68 seconds. "They're a fine defensive team when they turn it up like that. So are we. I guess we didn't get it done."
Tamika Catchings scored 16 of her 25 points in the second half for the Fever, which improved to 10-2 in elimination games at home and pushed the series to a deciding Game 3 Tuesday night at the Garden.
The winner advances to the best-of-five WNBA Finals against Minnesota, which swept Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. But before the Liberty can even think about making its first championship appearance since 2002, it will need to wake up from the fourth-quarter nightmare in Indianapolis.
"Just keep our focus," said Tina Charles, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds and shot 10-for-21 from the field. "We're looking forward to Tuesday."
After taking a 44-26 lead in the closing moments of the second quarter, the same team that had averaged 83 points in four previous playoff games stalled offensively in the second half, shooting 7-for-29 after a 17-for-34 showing before halftime.
The Fever trailed 53-42 entering the fourth quarter and never led until 2:47 remained in the game. Catchings drew a double-team and dished a pass to guard Shenise Johnson, who was wide open from the right arc for a three-pointer that gave the Fever a 60-59 lead. On Indiana's next possession, Marissa Coleman drained another three-pointer.
Two free throws by Epiphanny Prince (12 points) gave the Liberty a 64-63 lead with 1:08 left. But Catchings hit a jumper with 52.5 seconds to play to put the Fever ahead for good, and Erlana Larkins sank two free throws with 15.9 seconds remaining for a 67-64 lead. Catchings' two free throws with 9.3 seconds left clinched it.
The unraveling wasn't only on the floor. With 9.8 seconds remaining and his team trailing by three, Laimbeer could not keep his cool while protesting a foul against Tanisha Wright. He kicked the scorer's table, earning a technical foul, and Johnson hit the ensuing free throw.
"They got momentum and they got the calls," said Laimbeer, who referenced the officiating three times during his postgame news conference. "It all kind of snowballs."
Blame a lack of ball movement (the Liberty had 11 assists in the first half but managed only four more after halftime). Or simply credit Indiana's defense (after Charles' jump shot early in the fourth quarter, the Liberty had six straight misses, mostly from the perimeter).