Swoopes, Catchings rise to the occasion yet again

If you had to whittle down to one quick film clip the essence of why Sheryl Swoopes and Tamika Catchings are great, these would be the types of plays you'd pick:

You'd choose Swoopes perfectly anticipating an opponent's pass, taking just the right angle to tap it away from the intended recipient, racing down court and putting in a layup. And you'd select Catchings somehow getting her hands on a rebound she wasn't "supposed" to snag, passing to a teammate while off balance, then circling back around to get the ball again and scoring.

How many times have we seen these two future Hall of Famers do those things? We got another chance Sunday, an afternoon on which Swoopes turned back the clock for Seattle and Catchings refused to let Indiana lose.

The Storm beat Los Angeles 64-50, and the Fever prevailed in overtime at Detroit 89-82. Both winning teams were playing for their postseason survival, having lost their series openers Friday.

All four playoff series are going the distance, which fits the competitive nature of the regular season.

The Storm, with Lauren Jackson still on the sidelines, played Swoopes' kind of defense -- the kind that helped her win four WNBA titles and three Olympic gold medals. At 37, Swoopes isn't the superstar on an every-game basis the way she once was. Injuries, including a recent concussion, have limited her.

But she had 16 points -- her second-best point total this season behind the 17 she scored July 17 -- four rebounds and four steals. Swoopes' energy got the Storm off to a strong start, and the tone set with defense kept Seattle in charge the rest of the game. The Storm limited the Sparks to 30.8 percent shooting and their lowest point total of the season.

Sue Bird led Seattle with 20 points, and Camille Little had 13. Yolanda Griffith didn't score, but was engaged in the usual wrestling match with Lisa Leslie inside. Leslie ended up with 11 points and 11 rebounds, but that's a pretty good result for Griffith.

The way to try to stop the Sparks, of course, is to limit their sensational post players as much as possible and then see if L.A.'s guards can rise to the occasion. They didn't Sunday, and the Sparks can't just rely on Candace Parker (10 points, eight rebounds) being superhuman every game. That was especially true in a contest in which Swoopes showed that there's still such fire left in her.

Unless you're a Sparks fan, you probably felt the same rush of sentiment everyone feels upon seeing someone near the end of her career come up with a performance that reminds us of her best days. (And maybe even the Sparks' backers felt that way a bit, too.)

This was just Seattle's day from the very beginning. That said, you can be sure that Parker and Leslie will be a major handful Tuesday night. So will L.J. somehow be able to play then?

And how about Detroit's Plenette Pierson? I think the Shock probably would have closed out their series with Indiana on Sunday had Pierson not been injured in a play that should earn Indiana's Ebony Hoffman some punishment from the league.

With 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Pierson and Hoffman got locked up in the paint. These things happen. But what didn't need to happen was Hoffman throwing Pierson over her shoulder. Whatever Pierson's past transgressions -- and we all know there are plenty of them -- it doesn't mean it can just be open season on her.

The league rightfully suspended Pierson for four games after she clearly escalated a conflict in a July game with Los Angeles. But Pierson was not the aggressor in this situation with Hoffman, nor did it make any sense whatsoever for Pierson to be assessed a technical foul.

The officials probably punished Pierson based on her reputation. I can't be very critical of them, because they know Pierson's past and it seemed pretty clear none of them got a good view of what actually happened. But the league, with the benefit of watching replays and with the need to send out the message that this kind of garbage is not basketball, can make the proper call.

Pierson was Detroit's best player Sunday, collecting 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals before she was hurt. It seems unlikely she'll be able to play in Game 3, which means Kara Braxton really needs to show up, the Shock as a unit can't miss as many easy shots inside as they did Sunday, and Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan can't misfire so much from the outside (a combined 5-for-19 from 3-point range).

The Hoffman-Pierson incident aside, this really was a memorably gritty performance by Indiana as a team and Catchings as its leader. She had 27 points and 10 rebounds on a day when Katie Douglas again seemed very uncomfortable on offense. Part of that, certainly, is the defense played on Douglas by Nolan. But it also just seems like Douglas has, in some ways, lost confidence about being a clutch player. Or maybe she's not feeling up to par physically. Something's not right.

Luckily for Indiana, though, Tammy Sutton-Brown really made up for her subpar performance in the first game, getting 19 points and five rebounds Sunday.

The way Catchings battles with everything she has is a trait we're used to seeing from her, but not necessarily from the rest of the Fever players over the years. Sunday, though, Indiana played with a level of toughness and tenacity that really was quite impressive.

Who thought Indiana was going to win in Detroit? Let alone win in overtime after letting a lead slip away and seeing Nolan hit the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation. Yet the Fever did just that.

With all the physical play so far in the series, there's some reason to worry about how Tuesday's game might go. Detroit has made its reputation on being as physical as it can get away with, and Indiana seems inclined to give as good as it gets.

This game likely will be quite hard on the officials, who'll want to take control early but might find themselves just trying to hold on for dear life to keep the peace.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.