INDIANAPOLIS - Game 2 of the WNBA Finals drew the largest national television audience in 13 years of women's basketball.
Two nights later, ESPN2's second-half ratings for Game 3 had to be near an all-time low. Lynx fans had to turn their sets off in horror at halftime. Indiana fans had to be bored, their team was crushing its opponent so easily.
The Fever embarrassed the defending league champions 76-59 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and that 17-point final margin was deceivingly small. Indiana, which leads the best-of-five series 2-1, led by as many as 37 points late in the third quarter.
Indiana coach Lin Dunn called off her supercharged troops in the fourth quarter, when Lynx reserves outscored mostly Fever bench-warmers 21-6.
"We had turnovers [at] the start of the game," Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen said. "That along with some offensive rebounds just kind of snowballed."
The Fever had six steals and six offensive rebounds in the opening quarter. Yikes.
By late in the second quarter, the Lynx were buried under an avalanche of snowballs, trailing 40-20. Guard Shavonte Zellous scored a career-high 30 points for Indiana. Fever team leader Tamika Catchings had 17 points, 11 in the first quarter. And 6-1 center Erlana Larkins had 15 rebounds.
The Fever led 45-27 at halftime, 70-38 after the next quarter.
"I thought for three quarters we probably played as well as any Fever team I've ever seen," said Dunn, in her fifth season as Indiana's coach. "And I can't say enough about the fans. The fans were super, screaming, hollering, all that red. I was getting dizzy. I loved it. It was wonderful."
The announced crowd was 18,165, a sellout.
Now Indiana's and Catchings' first league championship is theirs if they win on Sunday.
"We have to force a Game 5," Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said, "and take it back home where we know it is going to be a tough place for them to play. We have to throw everything at them."
Friday the Lynx struggled in almost every category. They shot 35.1 percent, got outrebounded 39-30, committed 18 turnovers to the Fever's 13. And a team that averaged a league-record 21 assists during the regular season had a meager six, tying the record for fewest in the WNBA Finals game.
About 3 1/2 minutes into the third quarter, with her team trailing by 22 points, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve put in five reserves.
When those backups got outscored 10-0, the starters returned but also had little success.
So the Lynx face an elimination game Sunday.
Catchings won't let her teammates get too excited, though. In 2009, Indiana had a 2-1 lead over Phoenix in the WNBA Finals and lost the series.
"I felt like we celebrated too much after Game 3 in 2009," she said. "I don't want anybody celebrating, none of that. We don't celebrate early."
Maybe Zellous, who averaged 7.5 points per game this season, can celebrate a little bit. She started Friday because Katie Douglas missed her third game in the series because of a sprained left ankle.
"I was fired up for this game," Zellous said. "That Game 2 left a bad taste in our mouth."
Zellous had a so-so game Wednesday -- 16 points, six turnovers -- in the Fever's 83-71 loss at Target Center.
"One thing [Zellous] brings to the team is toughness," Dunn said. "She thrives in that tough, physical environment. Tonight they were remiss in giving her some open looks early, and she got into a rhythm. Then it was too late."
Dunn said there is a chance Douglas will play Sunday, but only if she can play at her highest level, because of how intense this series is.
"We have to be prepared for an unbelievable game with them," she said. "We do not want to go back to Minnesota [for Game 5]. Do not."