August 1, 2020
Fever come up short against Wings
Indiana surrenders tight lead down the stretch, falls below .500
Kelsey Mitchell #0 of the Indiana Fever drives to the basket against the Dallas Wings on July 31, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Indiana Fever suffered a 76-73 loss to Dallas on Friday night, dropping them to 1-2 on the 2020 season as the Wings improved to 2-1. It was a down-to-the-wire affair, but the Fever surrendered a Dallas run when it mattered most, the final minutes of the game.
“The game was winnable,” said Fever Coach Marianne Stanley. “I think we got a little bit frustrated offensively and maybe didn’t execute the way we can… Give credit to Dallas, their size and length and quickness bothered us.”
Though the Fever finished the game at just 36% shooting from the field, eight players finished with at least six points, led by Candice Dupree and Tiffany Mitchell who each scored 11. The Wings were guided by rookie Satou Sabally, who posted early-career highs of 23 points and 17 rebounds.
Out of the gates, the Fever appeared determined to capture their second consecutive win after shocking the Mercury on Wednesday. Indiana raced out to a 13-6 advantage before the Wings responded with a 13-4 burst of their own to claim a two point lead. The Fever turned on the jets in the second frame, piecing together an 8-0 run mid-quarter to build a 12 point halftime advantage.
Dallas inched closer heading throughout the final quarter, eventually trimming the Fever lead to two within the first two minutes of the period. Though the Fever took a 73-67 lead on a Stephanie Mavunga jumper with 3:41 remaining, they failed to score for the remainder of the game.
Down 74-73 and then 76-73 after Sabally connected on two free throws, the Fever’s Kelsey Mitchell missed four attempts to either tie or take the lead. Indiana withstood several Dallas throughout the contest, but ultimately allowed the Wings a slew of opportunities to claw their way back.
“We gave up too many offensive rebounds to them in the last couple minutes,” said Stanley. “Their length, which I was concerned about going into the game, was an issue throughout the game but it really played out in the second half quite a bit. That, and their guards getting to the rim off the dribble just made it tough for us, trying to contain the dribble drive between Arike [Ogunbowale] and Moriah Jefferson, they just made it really tough. Frustrating, for sure.”
The Fever, who entered the game having allowed 201 combined points in their first two games, seemed determined to improve on their lackluster defensive performances. They surrendered just 31 on 31% shooting in the first half on Friday, and forced Wings leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale into 1-for-8 shooting.
“We were ready, we were ready to play,” Julie Allemand said. “The coach asked us to really stop them and that’s what we did in the first half. The problem is that the second half, we were another team in defense. It’s frustrating.”
Allemand, the Belgian rookie who’s started all three games for Indiana, recorded a season-high 11 assists. The Fever are missing all-star guard Erica Wheeler, who remains in the league’s COVID-19 protocol, as well as Kathleen Doyle and Lauren Cox. Natalie Achonwa departed Friday’s game in third quarter because of a hamstring injury. In their place, Allemand has logged heavy playing time in her first season in the WNBA, having eclipsed 30 minutes each night.
Allemand acknowledged that the unique circumstances surrounding the “bubble” season as well as the injured players have made for a swift, but challenging adjustment process.
“It’s not easy, it’s not easy especially because the rules are really different here,” said Allemand. “But, you know, I don’t have time… I just have to play games. I get the minutes to play so… as a point guard it’s really important to organize my team and I think that’s something that I can really bring from Europe. I already have a style that I can help the team in offense and in defense. It’s really not easy but I don’t have to think about it, I just have to play my game, do the best I can do and just play.”
On a night when Indiana’s top three scorers — Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell and Candice Dupree — went just 11-for-41 from the field, several role players stepped up in their place. Kennedy Burke, Victoria Vivians and Stephanie Mavunga each logged at least 14 minutes off the bench and combined to score 24 points.
“I thought they did a really good job of stepping in and giving us a lift, all in their own way,” Stanley said. “Mavunga was good rebounding the ball, [Vivians] knocked down some jumpers. [Burke] did a little bit of everything. [Burke] has a had to play multiple positions for us and she’s a willing teammate in that sense, and I thought they did a great job coming off the bench and playing a role that was positive for us.”
Though Doyle was a game-time decision for Friday’s contest, she did not play out of precaution after rolling her ankle in practice last week. Stanley emphasized that she would’ve played the former Big Ten Player of the Year had she been ready, simply out of a necessity for bodies, but doesn’t want to risk a long-term injury.
The Fever also expect Lauren Cox, their first round selection in the 2020 draft, to make her WNBA debut on Sunday afternoon against Atlanta. Before Friday’s game, Cox said that she’s improving her conditioning and returning to the court is just a matter of “getting back in shape, getting my touch back.”
Though the Fever fell back below .500 in this abbreviated 22-game season, Dupree and the two Mitchells are statistically unlikely to shoot as poorly as they did against Dallas. With the big three performing at their usual levels, combined with the eventual returnees and the development of its role players, Indiana has plenty of reasons for optimism going forward.