Lin Dunn praises her players as her coaching career, Fever season ends

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Lin Dunn waves to the crowd as she walks off the court for the final time after the Fever's 75-62 loss to Chicago on Wednesday night.

INDIANAPOLIS – Not long after she walked out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse to a standing ovation came the time for a speech for a lifetime.

That’s not melodramatic. This would, in fact, become the final time that Lin Dunn would address not only the Fever as their head coach but also as the leader of a basketball team in general.

Her career, which began at Austin Peay University in 1972, officially came to an end after the Fever’s 75-62 loss to Chicago in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Dunn hoped to have given this speech a little over a week later when he team would hoist their second WNBA Championship in three years.

While the circumstances were not what she had hoped for, Dunn’s final message to the team remained the same.

“One of the things I wanted them to know is that not only are they great players, they’re great people,” said Dunn to her team after the loss. “When you’re coaching, sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to coach both great players and great people.

“So I’ve been honored to coach this team.”

That was the part of her final talk with the team that resonated the team as they reflected on their coach after her final game. Guard Briann January, who joined the Fever in 2009 from Arizona State, was emotional when recalling what Dunn said to the team following the loss to the Sky.

“That was tough. For a lot of us, we’ve gone through a lot with Lin. We’ve been here for years with her,” said January of Dunn’s final speech. “She’s really pushed us and brought the best out of us. She said it, this is a great group of women and she’s apart of that, she was apart of that great group.

“We’re gonna miss her.”

Dunn will miss them too and the franchise which she called home the last decade. Joining the Fever in 2004 as an assistant coach, Dunn got the head coaching job four years later and led the team to the team to a number of franchise firsts.

In 2009 the team made the WNBA Finals for the first time in their nine-years of existence and took the eventual champion Phoenix Mercury to five games before losing out west.

Undeterred the Fever continued to improve and in 2012 brought Indianapolis to a place it hadn’t been in 39 years. In the Eastern Conference Finals the Fever staved off elimination twice and advanced to another WNBA Finals. There Dunn’s team overcame a Game 1 loss to win the next three straight and give Indianapolis it’s first professional basketball title since the Pacers’ ABA crown in 1973.

For this success Dunn credited the commitment of the Pacers ownership to the franchise and their willingness to support the team.

“Working with first class people,” is how Dunn described her decade with the Fever. “I’ve worked at a lot of different places, college and pro, and this is the top of the top. If you can work for Pacers Sports and Entertainment, you’re working for the best of the best. Jim Morris, Rick Fuson, Kelly Krauskopf, first class people.

“I thrilled that at this particular time in my career I got to end my career, my basketball coaching career, with Pacers Sports and Entertainment. I can’t thank them enough for that.”

About the only thing Dunn would have liked to have had a little better was the result in her final game. After a double-overtime loss to the Sky in a potential closeout Game 2 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL the Fever were playing behind for most of the evening.

Hampered by a poor shooting night in which they hit just 31 percent of their shots and just 2-of-14 three-point attempts, the Fever were down by eight heading into halftime. The Fever got within three points on a jumper by Shavonte Zellous (Team-high 16 points) with 5:17 to go in the third quarter but that was as good as it would get.

Chicago outscored Indiana 23-17 in the final 10 minutes and got the lead up to 14 points at one time in that stretch to clinch a spot in their first ever WNBA Finals.

“You have to give Chicago credit,” said Dunn, who believed her team was fatigued from the double-overtime game on Monday. “They played with a sense of urgency and the intensity that we played with in 2009 when we had never been to the Finals. I could sense that in them.”

By the end of the night she might have been able to sense what she meant to a Fever team she said goodbye to on Wednesday night.

“She meant a lot to this team, a lot to the Fever organization, she meant a lot to women’s basketball,” said guard Tamika Catchings. “Everything she’s been able to accomplish.”

Including one more speech and a compliment to sum up four decades of coaching.