It was inevitable Thursday that the Indiana Fever or Connecticut Sun would leave Mohegan Sun Arena feeling like their soul was ripped out.
It’s the nature of sport. Only one team can win the final game of the series. Only one team can win the final game of the year.
What the Fever never expected was that feeling could come after their biggest win of the year.
This year, Indiana is the team with the shot from the Eastern Conference. But it paid a big price.
Playing for the last 35 minutes without Katie Douglas, the star of the first two games, the Fever pulled together, shot with incredible accuracy (55.7) and blasted the Sun, 87-71.
“There really isn’t a lot to say when you get your butts beat like that,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said.
Tamika Catchings, the 2011 MVP, led the Fever with 22 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. Former Sun guard Erin Phillips added 15.
Tina Charles, the 2012 MVP, led the Sun with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
And now the Fever move on to Minnesota for Game 1 of the best-of-five WNBA Finals on Sunday. They haven’t been to the Finals since 2009 when they lost to Phoenix and are still looking for their first title.
But whether they will have Douglas is unknown.
“We don’t know yet,” Catchings said. “But we are going to go there and get ready to play.”
Douglas, a Fever pillar and top scorer in the series, severely injured her left ankle with 5:05 to play in the first quarter and was taken to the hospital for x-rays.
“We were going to do it [win the game] for her,” Phillips said.
Douglas, named to the Sun’s All-Decade team last month, had scored 81 points in the first two games. She was hurt doing what she does best, driving to the basket with her left hand when she fell on Tan White’s foot.
Douglas badly rolled the ankle and immediately cried out in anguish, her fists smashing into the floor. The Fever was leading, 12-4.
Dunn inserted Shavonte Zellous (11 points), whose basket beat the Sun in Game 2, and turned to Jeanette Pohlen, the former Stanford star, who hadn’t scored since Sept. 28.
And Indiana took flight. Pohlen’s three (14 points) with 2:57 to play in the half gave it a 41-20 lead after a 21-6 run.
“We couldn’t hit the rim and they were making everything,” Thibault said. “It was a bad start.”
It also made the Fever 7-of-7 from three. They were 17-of-29 from the floor in the first half. Meanwhile, the Sun missed its first 10 threes in the first half, during which it shot 11-of-34. And they trailed, 43-24.
The Sun ended 4-of-18 from three, shooting 40.6 percent.
The Sun’s season ends one win short of his first Eastern Conference title since 2005. They swept New York, won Game 1 against the Fever and led 11-0 in Game 2 before their momentum was stunted.
“It’s hard to be a champion and we are not there, obviously,” Thibault said.
Indiana also recovered from a 1-0 deficit to win its first-round series against Atlanta. No team has ever won a title in such fashion.
The Fever’s two stars, Douglas and Catchings, have never won a title. And during the Sun’s stop in Indiana for Game 2, Thibault heard tell of the “burn” inside the Fever to get them one.
“Asjha [Jones] and Kara [Lawson] have the same burn those guys do,” Thibault said. “What more right do they have to the title than us? It’s the same emotion.”
And if the perception was that Indiana’s championship window was closing, the same could be said for the Sun, so desperate to get Jones a WNBA crown to go along with her two NCAA championships at UConn and her 2012 Olympic gold medal.
. “Everyone is trying to get a championship. I know they’ve been pushing hard to get a championship, but so have we,” Sun guard Tan White said.
And this game was played where the Sun wanted it.
“Which makes this so hard,” Renee Montgomery said.
Thibault said he knew the game might come down to hustle plays, like Monday’s did in Indiana. But he suspected it would have more to do with who was able to sustain the effort, which the Sun did not do defensively.
“It’s not a big deal to do that. In the NBA, you might have to play 28 games to win the championship. This is supposed to be fun. If you don’t like playing these kinds of games, you shouldn’t be in the business.”
And the Fever won this game, and the series, on adrenaline. Instead of flailing with the loss of Douglas, the Fever burned hotter and never trailed after Jones opened the game with a basket to make it 2-0.