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Fever avoid elimination again, beat Lynx to push WNBA Finals to Game 5

INDIANAPOLIS -- Briann January joked earlier in the WNBA Finals about how her father, a karate instructor, attributes all of her basketball success to her background in that discipline, in which she has a black belt.

"As I grow older, I do see the connection -- that ability to refocus," the Indiana Fever point guard said. "Especially when you're in tense situations, to be able to calm yourself. When it comes to toughness, focus, discipline ... there's a lot of things I've learned through martial arts that I've carried through to basketball."

OK, that explains January's mindset. But how exactly is this entire Indiana Fever franchise able to keep on doing this crazy "you can't kill us" thing? Because Sunday night, on the brink of elimination, the Fever won. Again. How do they do it? Hey, it's just the Fever way.

Indiana took Game 4 by the same score that they won Game 1 the previous Sunday, 75-69 over Minnesota. This victory evened the series at 2-2, sending us back to Minneapolis for a deciding Game 5 Wednesday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

It's fitting for a WNBA Finals that have been this close that the series will go the distance, right? Everyone said that Sunday, even Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, who surely would have preferred to close out a title on the road. That's what the Lynx did with their previous championships, in 2011 and '13, both in sweeps that finished in Atlanta.

But the Fever wouldn't let this game get away from them, even if it did get a little hairy at the end for Indiana. The Fever made just one field goal in the fourth quarter, but went 15 of 18 from the foul line.

Coach Stephanie White didn't quite realize that the Fever had hit only one shot from the field in the final period. When told that after the game, she comically replied, "Oh, my God."

But a strong third quarter -- in which Indiana outscored Minnesota 22-14 -- and the Fever's ability to get to the foul line, mostly in the second half, was enough to topple the Lynx. Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles seemed to be in foul trouble almost from the start of the game, and ended up taking just two shots from the field. She and the rest of the Lynx players had to spend a lot of time watching the Fever make free throws.

For the game, the Fever were 25-of-29 from the stripe, compared to just 6-of-9 for the Lynx. For a Minnesota team that takes great pride in not fouling much and playing tough but clean defense, such free throw numbers for an opponent are particularly galling.

For the Fever, though, it was an indication that with their backs to the wall once more, they came out the more aggressive team and just relentlessly kept it up.

"I thought we did a great job of attacking the basket and putting pressure on their bigs," said Fever guard Shenise Johnson, who had 15 points and five rebounds. "Especially Sylvia Fowles. When we're getting good shots at the basket and are able to kick out for the 3, that's when we're tough to defend."

Johnson was one of four Fever starters to score in double figures, along with Marissa Coleman (14), January (13) and Tamika Catchings (10.) Erlana Larkins didn't score -- she took just one shot -- but had six rebounds and was a key part of Indiana's defense. The Fever got 23 points from their bench, led by guard Shavonte Zellous' eight.

"We really have some pretty good weapons on the perimeter," Zellous said. "But we know heading into Game 5, it's going to take all 12 of us."

The Fever lost the first game of their Eastern Conference semifinal against Chicago, then had to win two in a row to take the series. The same thing happened against New York in the East finals.

"Everybody has played a part in that, the starters and our entire bench," January said. "Everybody has helped bring us up a level each step along the way."

Now, after taking out the top two seeds in the East, the Fever are trying to do the same to the No. 1 seed in the West.

"I think it comes from inside, and then you have great leaders like Tamika Catchings and Stephanie White, who can pull it out of you at the right time," Johnson said of the Fever's intestinal fortitude. "It's been fun playing this series, it's been an honor. But it's not done. I'm happy to be playing one more game, and it just happens to be for a championship."

Johnson, Zellous, January, Catchings and everyone else in the Fever locker room acknowledged that it was tough to put their 80-77 loss on Friday behind them right away. That defeat on a Maya Moore buzzer-beater obviously cost the Fever players some sleep that night, as that shot played over and over in their minds.

"It's been fun playing this series, it's been an honor. But it's not done. I'm happy to be playing one more game, and it just happens to be for a championship." Indiana guard Briann January

But by Saturday morning, they regrouped and refocused.

"Of course in that moment after [Friday's game], it really hurts," Johnson said. "You'd rather get beat by eight or 10 points, than it being decided by one shot. But you know, the game really didn't come down to just that one play, it was multiple plays throughout that game. Maya made a great shot. But then you wake up, and it's a new day. Our energy was great in the locker room, there were smiles, positive attitudes."

And now, it all will come down to one more game. Both January and Catchings have done this before; they were on the 2009 Fever team that lost Game 5 of the WNBA Finals at Phoenix. Now they will try to spoil a celebration for Minnesota at Target Center.

"I know the place is going to be loud," Catchings said of the environment she's expecting Wednesday. "But that's what you play for. That's what makes it fun for us."

And this series has been a great deal of fun for all us watching, too.