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With backs against wall, Fever have proven to be resilient

INDIANAPOLIS -- With a crowd of over 16,000 poised to erupt in a Friday-night victory celebration for Indiana, it was instead Maya Moore's poise on a last-second 3-point dagger that was the last statement of Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.

So now we prepare for Sunday's potential title-clincher game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET), as Moore's Minnesota Lynx will try to close out the series and win their third championship in five seasons. They won their previous two titles (2011, '13) on the road in Atlanta, sweeping the Dream in both series.

When the Lynx faced the Fever in the 2012 WNBA Finals, they were blown out in Game 3 and then fell in Game 4 as Indiana took its first title. And these 2015 Finals were looking a lot like 2012 ... until Friday. The Lynx's 80-77 victory on Moore's buzzer-beating trey probably would have taken the air out of many teams. But it's less likely it will do that to Indiana, because that's not how the Fever are wired.

"They're not going to give up," Minnesota's Seimone Augustus said. "They're Tamika Catchings-led."

Indeed, the indomitable spirit of Catchings, the Fever franchise's power source since her rookie season of 2002, is spread throughout the rest of Indiana's players. They've won once in Minnesota in this series, and now know that to claim the championship, they'll have to do it again.

"It is a heartbreaker to lose like that," Catchings said. "But at the same time, when you know what you're capable of as a team, we know [we can be] so much better."

Maybe so, but the fact is that the Fever really have played quite well in this series. In fact, going back to the second half of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against New York, Indiana has looked every bit a championship contender.

But on a night when the Fever did a pretty good job containing Sylvia Fowles (11 points) and Augustus (13), and limited Moore -- who was also in early foul trouble -- until the fourth quarter, the Lynx still had enough to win.

"This series is so full. A lot of things have happened and are going to happen in the remainder of the series," Moore said. "Definitely a dramatic finish [Friday], which has been where most of the attention is on.

"But we know there are things we need to clean up. I'm sure both teams want to be better defensively since both shot so well last night. Because every game, we have to be better. That's the mindset going into Game 4."

Minnesota's bench came through big-time Friday, although in the case of guard Anna Cruz, she's actually getting starter-like minutes. With Lindsay Whalen somewhat mentally and physically worn down from injuries she has dealt with this season, Cruz has needed to think almost with a starter's mentality.

Cruz played 31 minutes Friday, making 3-of-4 shots from the field and 4-of-6 from the foul line for 10 points. She also had five assists, and her defense -- along with that of Renee Montgomery -- was just enough against a strong perimeter attack from Indiana.

"When they go with Renee Montgomery and Anna Cruz, they just have a tremendous amount of ball pressure," Fever coach Stephanie White said. "Those two defensively do such a good job of not allowing you to get into a rhythm offensively. You sort of lose a little bit in terms of your execution and your details. So you just have to give them credit for great defense."

Montgomery and Cruz also combined for 22 points, which was as big a factor as their defense. And Devereaux Peters has also been a spark off the bench in Minnesota's wins in this series, scoring six points in each.

"It's been kind of an uncharacteristically choppy season with regard to personnel," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. "We've grown so accustomed to having our players here fairly healthy through the years. Last year, injuries started creeping in. This year, starting with Janel McCarville's announcement [that she would sit out the season], it just sort of snowballed. So we've had to throw players into the fire. And I think it's a testament to someone like Anna Cruz. She's really immersed herself into this team."

Cruz was obtained in a trade with New York on draft day in April, and Montgomery came in a trade in July. It's fair to say that without the contributions of both, the Lynx would not be in position to win the series.

With the first two games each decided by six points, and Friday's by a last-second 3-pointer, there really isn't much separation between these two teams. You wouldn't have thought that at times this season, but now it's the case.

So does that mean the deciding factor becomes which team's superstar is able to rise to the occasion the most? That was the final narrative on Friday. Moore, bottled up for three quarters with foul trouble, was able to bust out in the fourth quarter. She doubled her offensive output from the previous three quarters and finished with 24 points.

Meanwhile, Catchings -- who at 36 is a decade older than Moore -- will need to dig deep again to help fuel the Fever. How does she do that?

"Dig even deeper," Catchings said. "You just find it. I think for some of us, it's that unchartered territory that a lot of people don't know that they have. But when you get into a situation and you have to find it, you figure it out. It's not something you practice or even think about, it's something you just do."

Catchings had 10 points and 10 rebounds Friday. It was a burst of energy from her -- a jump shot, a 3-pointer, a steal -- with about 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter that put the Fever in position to win.

But being able to make plays such as that for two more games -- if the Fever are to win the championship -- will be taxing even for someone such as Catchings, who so often in her career has found another gear even when it appears she's maxed out.

"I feel like we have that grit, that character; we're not going to give up," Catchings said. "I told [my team] at the end of the day, whether we win or lose, if everybody gives everything they have, that's the only thing that matters."

That attitude from Catchings and from White is what has helped the Fever successfully face elimination before in this postseason, versus Chicago in the first round and New York in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Fever have not been negatively affected by pressure.

"We do a good job of keeping perspective, and being aware of the level we need to play at," said Indiana guard Briann January, who has averaged 17.0 points and 6.3 assists in the three Finals games. "That really keeps us positive and able to bounce back from tough losses.

"Heading into [Sunday], we looked at the film, we saw the things we need to correct, and we're going to try to play our best basketball."

The Fever got a chance in 2012 to celebrate winning the title on their home floor, but that can't happen this time. Still, Catchings is hopeful the environment at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Game 4 is just as loud and infectious as if the Fever were up 2-1 instead of the other way around.

"I still want it to be that championship atmosphere," Catchings said. "I know the fans are going to come, and it's going to be a packed house again. We need the fans to come out and give us that extra lift so we can go on and play Game 5."

The Lynx will be happy to see a big crowd Sunday, too, even if most of the fans are dressed in Fever red. Both teams have thrived on the energy that has come from the two arenas. That said, the Lynx would just as soon not go back to Target Center for anything except a championship celebration.

The Lynx know Friday's game could easily have gone the other way, and that's what they'll have to prevent against Sunday.

"It was a great display of heart, competitiveness, talent, hitting big shots," Moore said of Game 3. "There was a ton of big, pressure-filled shots that made for great TV. I'm excited for the young kid out there watching this. Both teams played very impressively. I expect another duel."