Tamika Catchings arguably the best player without a WNBA title
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- There's not much left for Tamika Catchings to accomplish.
The 33-year old Indiana Fever forward was the WNBA's most valuable player last year, and she just won her third Olympic gold medal for Team USA in August. She's a four-time WNBA defensive player of the year, a seven-time All-Star and has been on the all-league teams nine times. She is the WNBA's all-time leader in steals and free throws made.
She still hasn't won a WNBA title, making her perhaps the best player in league history never to win one. She kicks off her quest to finally fill that void on Friday when the Fever host the Atlanta Dream in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Catchings takes that missing line on her resume personally.
"Being able to succeed on every level but this, and knowing we've had teams and I've had teammates that want the same thing, but we can't put it together when we need to, it's like, `Well, what do I need to do to motivate my teammates? What do I need to do to consistently encourage them and know that, no matter whether they make mistakes or not, we're behind them 100 percent,"' she said.
So many times, she has been close. She has led the Fever to the playoffs for eight consecutive years and has been to the Eastern Conference Finals four times. In 2007 and 2011, the Fever lost the decisive Game 3 in the East Finals. Last year, the Game 3 loss to Atlanta was an 83-67 defeat at home, when the Fever had the top seed and Catchings was hobbled by plantar fasciitis in her right foot.
In 2009, the Fever lost to Phoenix in the WNBA Finals. The Fever could have clinched at home in Game 4, but lost 90-77. The Fever went on to lose Game 5 94-86 in Phoenix.
Those close calls have only strengthened Catchings' resolve to make this the year.
"When you look at it from a standpoint of having all the individual accomplishments but looking at it in the big picture and wanting a team accomplishment, this is it," she said.
Catchings could win another MVP award. Last year, she averaged 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals as Indiana finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Fever reached the Eastern Conference Finals, but lost to Atlanta.
This season, she was even better in many ways. She averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, and 2.1 steals per contest. She did it all as a power forward this season after being a small forward last year.
"She had to learn sets from a different perspective, and she's really done a great job with that, and I think that really goes back to her basketball IQ," Dunn said.
Catchings turned it up in the second half of the season, winning WNBA player of the week twice and being named the league's player of the month for August.
Indiana started off strong after the Olympic break, winning 10 of its first 12, but the Fever faltered late in the regular season because of injuries. A three-game losing streak, including two losses to Minnesota and a loss at East rival Connecticut, put the team in a tailspin.
With starters Katie Douglas, Shavonte Zellous and Briann January out for the final two games of the regular season, Catchings helped the Fever beat Washington and Tulsa. In the regular-season finale against Tulsa, Catchings had 20 points and 10 rebounds to move into second place in league history in double-doubles behind Lisa Leslie.
Indiana coach Lin Dunn believes those accomplishments should be enough to make Catchings a two-time MVP.
"I thought there were probably two legitimate candidates, and that would be Tamika and (Connecticut center) Tina Charles," Dunn said. "I don't think anybody does all the things that Catch does. She defends, she rebounds, she's inside, she's outside, she has assists. I just don't think there's anybody more versatile than Catchings."
The MVP award is not Catchings' concern right now.
"It's definitely a great award, it's a great accomplishment, but at the end of the day, you guys know what I want," she said. "I want a championship. If I don't win MVP but we get a championship, I will be the happiest person in the world."
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