By PAT EATON-ROBB
UNCASVILLE, Conn.— Indiana lost a star early in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Fever never lost their confidence.
Tamika Catchings scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Indiana into the WNBA Finals for the second time in four seasons with an 87-71 win over the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night.
The Fever, who have won four games while facing elimination during the playoffs, routed the Sun even after leading scorer Katie Douglas went down with an ankle injury just 5 minutes into the game.
“When Katie went down, you could just see the fire in everybody’s eyes,” coach Lin Dunn said. “We just took it to a whole ‘nother level. We could have folded up our little tent and gone home when one of our bigguns got hurt. But we didn’t.”
Douglas had been the team’s leading scorer in the playoffs, and had 51 points in the first two games of this series.
The bench picked up the slack with 32 points, led by Erin Philips who had 15. The Fever hit 10 3-pointers, including their first seven.
“Everyone just stepped up,” Phillips said. “We showed a lot of poise and were aggressive. It was just an awesome team game.”
League MVP Tina Charles led the Sun with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Kara Lawson added 16 points.
Indiana will play at defending WNBA champion Minnesota, which swept Los Angeles in the Western Conference, in Game 1 of the best-of-five finals on Sunday.
The Fever were up 9-4 when Douglas missed a driving off-balance jumper in the lane, came down on the foot of the Sun’s Tan White and rolled her left ankle. She was taken to a hospital for X-Rays.
Dunn had no update after the game.
“I know we’re going to the Finals and Katie’s probably going to tape it up…and get ready to play in the Finals, and we’ll see what happens from there,” Catchings said.
The Fever’s star had been the leading scorer in the series, putting up 27 in the opener and 24 on Monday night.
But Indiana only expanded its lead. Phillips had 10 first-half points, and hit three of her four 3-point shots.
Indiana led 18-10 after the first quarter, and used a 12-0 run to stretch that to 32-16.
The Fever were 7 of 7 from behind the arc in the first half, while the Sun missed all 10 of their 3-point attempts. They were 0 for 12 before Lawson hit a 3-pointer late in the third quarter and finished 4 of 18.
“It’s not a real good sign when you’re missing all of yours and they are hitting everything,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said.
Indiana led 43-24 at halftime, and 68-48 after three quarters.
Indiana shot 55 percent from the field and 10 of 16 from 3-point range.
Jeanette Pohlen, who hadn’t scored a basket since Sept. 28 for Indiana, finished with 14 points and Briann January added 12.
“You play to make it to the Finals,” Catchings said. “So when you get in a situation like this and we’re all circled around (Douglas) on the floor, the one thing when we went back that we talked about was when one person goes down, everybody steps up.”
Indiana forced this game with a 78-76 win in Game 2 on a jumper by Shavonte Zellous with 0.5 seconds left. The Sun won the opener 76-64, holding Catchings to just seven points on 2-of-14 shooting. She had 21 points in Indiana to help the Fever stave off elimination.
The Sun, who have never won a WNBA title, haven’t been to the finals since Douglas led them there in 2004 and 2005.
Indiana has made eight straight trips to the postseason, but has played in the finals only once, losing to Phoenix in 2009. Catchings and Douglas are both in their 11th seasons, and neither has won a WNBA championship.
The Fever had never won a road elimination game in the playoffs. They are trying to become the first team to overcome 1-0 deficits in the first two rounds of the WNBA playoffs to win a title. They were 0-6 in road game in five Eastern Conference finals coming into Thursday’s game.
“I’m tired of hearing, ‘You can’t ever do this in the third game’ or ‘You’ve never done this. You’ve never done that.’” Dunn said. “Now we’ve done it.”