Catchings wants to keep driving new Lexus to work as Fever begin playoffs

Pacers Sports and Entertainment gave Tamika Catchings a Lexus SUV as a retirement present on Sunday. Sept. 18, 2016 (WTHR photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - The Indiana Fever open the WNBA playoffs Wednesday night in a must-win situation.

A victory over the Phoenix Mercury is the only way to keep Tamika Catchings and head coach Stephanie White together in Indianapolis a little longer. A loss sends Catchings into retirement and sends White off to Nashville, Tennessee, to take a new position as the women’s basketball coach at Vanderbilt University.

"This will be the last year I'm in the locker room, Steph's in the locker room," Catchings said after practice Tuesday. "We don't know what's going to happen with the other players, so we’re really enjoying every single moment that we have together."

"I haven't really processed it," White said. "I've kind of pushed it off to the side and really focused on the task that we have at hand. I think it will probably hit me afterwards, when everything is said and done."

Catchings left Bankers Life Fieldhouse Sunday with a new Lexus SUV - a retirement gift from Pacers Sports and Entertainment. She drove it home from the retirement ceremony and had trouble sleeping.

"I woke up like five in the morning looking up wondering, 'Where am I?'" said Catchings. "Then my first thing was, 'I got to run downstairs and check the garage and make sure I wasn't dreaming'."

The Lexus was in the garage. Catchings drove it to practice Tuesday. She wants to keep driving to work and put off retirement as long as possible.

Does Catchings lock retirement out of her mind, or does that drive her energy facing her potential final game?

"Drive your energy, definitely," answered Catchings. "Coming out here and wanting to keep this ride going. You don't want to end on a loss. You want to keep it going."

"You try to keep that out of your mind," said Fever guard Marissa Coleman, "but when someone has had such an impact on myself and this organization and the city and everything, it's hard not to think about. You want her to go out the same way Peyton [Manning] did, finish her career on top with a championship."

The Fever host the Mercury Wednesday (6:00 p.m. ESPNews) in a one-game elimination first round playoff.

"They're so dangerous," White said of the Mercury. "They were picked to win the league. So they have a lot of talent. They have a lot of size. They shoot the ball extremely well. They can score from all five positions, so I think we have to be really disciplined on the defensive end of the floor."

A Fever loss ends the season. A Fever wins sends Indiana to Chicago for a Sunday 1 p.m. second round playoff game, also just a one-game elimination.

"You just have to have extreme focus on that one game," said Coleman. "There's no tomorrow. I know in the back of our minds, we all want to do this for Catch. I think it just comes naturally. Obviously, you're playing for something all season. But this is what you've worked for all season, what all the practices and preparation were for."

"I think it creates urgency with every possession," said White. "We always talk about it and try to do that, but we have to be about it, because there is no law of averages when there's no series. You have to be all on. There's no time for conserving. There's no time for wasted and empty possessions. There's no time for missed coverages on the defensive end of the floor. So I think the heightened sense of urgency is the biggest difference."

The Fever has reached the playoffs a WNBA record 12 straight years. They have won at least one playoff game nine years in a row.

"We have to bring 100 percent," said Catchings. "You guys know our history has not really been good for the best-of-three series, so now I'm kind of excited the way it is. At first I wasn't too fond of the whole idea of one-and-done. But now that we don't have a choice, I'm really like let's just play 100 percent and come out and play the way we know how to play. Let's play with our backs against the wall, which we play better that way anyway. So maybe that will be a good thing for us."