INDIANAPOLIS – The defense begins now for many, yet for some it’s been going on since the Fever tipped off their season in late May.
“When you get a ring to start the season and you’re the current defending champions, you take that to heart,” said Fever head coach Lin Dunn about the distinction of being the WNBA’s reigning champion. “That’s one of our goals is to defend our championship.”
It’s a task that no team in Fever history has taken on since the 2012 title was the first in franchise history. Defending the crown wasn’t easy as the team was decimated early by injuries and started the year 1-7 as they had to play some games with just eight healthy players.
Slowly the Fever got players back and made it to the playoffs as a fourth seed with a 16-18 record and will face the top-seeded Sky in the best-of-three series starting Friday at the UIC Pavilion.
“Just looking at the transition of our team and where we started off to where we are now, it’s definitely one of those things where it’s like ‘whew, we made the playoffs’,” said guard Tamika Catchings. “When we found out that we made it, it’s kinda like you don’t want to relax. Now we want to start prepping our team to make a push to defend our championship.”
There are a few advantages the Fever will have heading into the postseason that figures to help. For one, the use of multiple players due to injury gives the team a deep and experienced bench to help give starters a break in the short three-game series. Plus the Fever will be starting off their ninth-consecutive postseason against a Chicago team that has yet to play a WNBA Playoff game, which gives the team an opportunity to start fast.
“The playoffs, like coach (Dunn) said, is just a heightened amount of attention, scrutiny every play, every possession,” said Douglas. “Chicago hasn’t been there so our motto is and our trademark is defense so we’re gonna kinda amp it up and come out aggressive and, like you said, we’ve got a lot of experience.
“But they’ve been regular season tested, they got the number one seed so they’ve got that experience but the playoffs it’s a whole other ball game out there and hopefully we can use that to our advantage as well.”
If they can the Fever can join a unique group in the history of Indianapolis sports-repeat champions. Only two in professional sports in the modern era have been able to accomplish this feat-and one is in their own building.
During the height of their ABA dominance, the Pacers took home championships in the 1971-1972 season and the 1972-1973 seasons with starts like Roger Brown, Mel Daniels and George McGinnis. During their repeat run the Pacers beat Denver then Utah in the Western Division playoffs to advance to the ABA Finals to face the Kentucky Colonels.
In a memorable seven-game series, the Pacers went to Freedom Hall in the deciding game and beat the host Colonels 88-81 for the team’s third ABA title.
The Indianapolis Indians had an even better run of success in the late 1980’s when they took the American Association by storm. As an affiliate of the Montreal Expos, who featured future stars like Randy Johnson and Larry Walker along with franchise legend Razor Shines, the Indians won the league title from 1986-1989.
Since then, however, the city’s professional teams haven’t been able to bring home a repeat. The Indians won the 2000 International League crown but couldn’t repeat the next season. The Indianapolis Ice won an IHL and CHL championship but didn’t win a title in either league again.
The Colts got a repeat title in 1959 but that was during their days in Baltimore. In 2007 the team looked like they had a shot to win again when they followed their Super Bowl title from the year before with a 13-3 record but they fell victim to an upset in the AFC Divisional Playoff by the Chargers, who closed the RCA Dome with a 28-24 win.
Trying to live up to those expectations isn’t on the mind of someone like Douglas, who is trying to bring home a repeat with a time-honored philosophy.
“We just need to take it one game at a time and not look to far,” said Douglas. “We’ve got Game One Friday against Chicago, they got the number one seed so they’ve had a great regular season and obviously we have a target as the defending champs.
“So we’re gonna have a game plan this week and we’ll just be ready to go and hopefully use our championship experience from last year and bring that on into Friday night’s game.”