By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — A pair of Olympians took control on both ends of the court in the second half to help the Connecticut Sun pull away from Indiana in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals.
Tina Charles scored 18 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked four shots to lead Connecticut to the 76-64 win Friday night. Meanwhile, Asjha Jones played lock-down defense on Tamika Catchings, holding the Fever's star to just two field goals and seven points.
"Defense is always my priority," Jones said. "Guarding her was my main focus, trying to stay between her and the basket."
Charles, the WNBA's MVP, had just four first-half points but came alive in the third quarter, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds as the Sun broke open a 30-30 game.
She brought the crowd into the contest with an offensive rebound, putback and free throw to highlight a 14-2 run that gave the Sun control. Connecticut led 54-43 after three quarters and by as many as 16 in the fourth.
"In the second half, I just wanted to set the tone, just getting on the 'O' boards as much as I could to score," Charles said.
Kara Lawson had 16 points and Tan White added 13 for the Sun, who swept New York in the opening round and have now won eight of their last nine games.
Katie Douglas, who spent five years with the Sun and her first seven years in the WNBA with the franchise that moved from Orlando to Connecticut, had 27 points to lead the Fever. She hit 11 of her 19 shots, including 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
"I like it here in Connecticut," she said. "I played here for five years, so I'm very comfortable with the rims, the floor, the lighting, you know everything that a shooter kind of needs."
But it was a struggle for Catchings. She had a blocked shot, a rebound, an assist and a 3-pointer in the game's opening minute, but had just one more field goal all night, missing her next 11 shots.
"We just made her work to catch the ball, and made her uncomfortable when she caught it," said Sun coach Mike Thibault. "Asjha, I thought, did a terrific job tonight. You know that's a classic battle. You're talking about two of the best power forwards in the league going head-to-head. It was a key matchup."
Connecticut outrebounded Indiana 30-25 and had 15 second-chance points, overcoming a strong start from Indiana.
Douglas had 10 first-quarter points and the Fever closed that quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 22-14 lead.
Charles began to assert herself on defense in the second. She had all four of her blocked shots as the Sun limited the Fever to just eight points, and held Douglas scoreless.
The Sun won the season series 3-1 but only one of those games took place after the Olympic break — and Connecticut needed overtime to win that one.
In addition to playing lock-down defense, Jones had 11 points. She had missed 14 games in the second half of the season with a strained left Achilles' tendon before returning in the final week
"I'm hanging in there," she said. "No letdown in the second half so (the Achilles) has been holding up pretty well."
Erlana Larkins, who didn't break the starting lineup until two games before the playoffs, had nine points and eight rebounds after averaging just over 14 points and just under 11 rebounds against Atlanta in the first round.
The Fever, who also lost the opener of their series with the Dream, is in their third conference final in four years. Indiana had won four of five coming in after a three-game slide that knocked them out of contention for the East's top overall seed.
The series moves to Indiana on Monday with the third game, if necessary, back in Connecticut on Oct. 11.
"We're going to take away five of those second-chance points," said Fever coach Lin Dunn. "We're going to get four or five more of our shots. We're going to get to the free-throw line two or three more times and we're going to win the second game."