INDIANAPOLIS — After struggling for nearly three full quarters, Tamika Catchings came through when the Indiana Fever needed her most.
Catchings scored 14 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter, including several clutch baskets down the stretch, to lead the Fever to a 78-73 win over the Washington Mystics on Thursday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Catchings, who endured a lengthy scoring drought from midway through the first quarter to midway through the third, also finished with 10 rebounds and seven steals.
"You have to bring more than just scoring. For me starting off the game slow, even though I wasn't hitting my shots, they were good shots," Catchings said. "Once I started getting more aggressive, we all started getting more aggressive."
Her clutch play late included a timely steal and several free throws that kept the Mystics at bay, preserving home-court advantage for the Fever in the best-of-three series. Game 2 is Saturday at Washington.
Behind runs of 10-0 and 9-0 in the second quarter, Washington erased a 10-point first quarter deficit to take a 36-30 halftime lead. The Mystics maintained their lead throughout the third quarter before Catchings regained her touch and the Fever turned up their intensity and urgency.
After watching the nip-and-tuck action for the first seven minutes of the final quarter, Catchings took over. In the final three minutes of the game, Catchings scored eight points, including two free throws that helped seal the game for the Fever.
Her seven steals matched a WNBA playoff regulation record. She went 14 for 14 from the foul line, the second-best perfect foul shooting performance in league playoff history.
Catchings needs 21 points to become the league's all-time playoff scoring leader. Her 10 boards helped her pass Lisa Leslie as the WNBA's career leading rebounder in the postseason.
"The thing that's so special about her is that she's so multidimensional," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "She's doing something everywhere. She's a once-in-a-lifetime player and I'm privileged and honored that I've gotten to coach her."
Ivory Latta scored 17 points to lead the Mystics. Emma Meesseman had 17 points and six rebounds, and Monique Currie added 11 points.
"We've got to give ourselves a chance," Thibault said. "If we can win on Saturday at home, who knows what happens on Monday (in a potential Game 3)."