May 17, 2021 

How the Indiana Fever lost opening weekend

And what needs to change Wednesday in Connecticut and beyond

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PALMETTO, FL – SEPTEMBER 10: Teaira McCowan #15 of the Indiana Fever shoots the ball against the New York Liberty on September 10, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)

With 4:12 left in Sunday’s game against New York, the Indiana Fever trailed 69-56 after a short jumper from the Liberty’s Kylee Shook. With the game on the brink and the Fever desperately needing a basket, Tiffany Mitchell failed to inbound the ball properly, committing one of the team’s 21 turnovers on the night.

That was just one of the many plays that left the Fever scratching their heads during the opening weekend of the 2021 season, one characterized by misfortune, frustration and an inability to hit open shots. They lost in heartbreaking fashion in New York on Friday in New York, 90-87, before falling to the same Liberty team at home on Sunday, 73-65.

Sunday’s game was the first for Indiana in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse — the home court of the Fever and the NBA’s Pacers — since September 2019. After playing away from their fans for such an extended period of time, that likely wasn’t how they envisioned their reunion.

“It’s so frustrating,” said Kelsey Mitchell. “It’s tough because you know how hard you’re trying to work to be good for yourself, for your team and for your fans. To have them back was amazing but to let them down just like that, it sucked.”

As they prepare to hit the road for their next game, here are several takeaways from the Fever’s 0-2 start to the campaign:

Where’s the shot-making?

Through two games, the Fever are shooting just 62-for-165 (37.5%) from the field, including 6-for-39 (15%) from three-point range. Sunday’s offensive performance was particularly poor, as the Fever shot just 32.5% and committed 21 turnovers.

Indiana generated solid looks through actions such as Danielle Robinson’s dribble penetration, pick and pops with Jantel Lavender and Mitchell’s one-on-one scoring ability — but they just aren’t falling.

“We had plenty of makable shots in this game and for whatever reason, we just didn’t have it tonight,” said Marianne Stanley. “Lot of shots that are makable, lot of shots that we practice, and it just seemed like there was a lid on the basket.”

Stanley says there’s room for optimism, as she trusts the shooting percentages will increase with more practice time under the team’s belt.

“That’s one of those things that’s controllable, in terms of getting in the gym, doing the extra work so you’re better the next time you come out,” Stanley said.

Rebounding should be a major strength for the Fever going forward

The Fever largely played well offensively in Friday’s contest, particularly in the paint — they out-rebounded the undermanned Liberty 45-28 overall, including 19-3 offensively. Teaira McCowan and offseason acquisition Jantel Lavender each reached double figures, securing 26 rebounds combined.

Those offensive rebounds frequently led to second chance points, as the Fever had no problem dealing with New York’s undersized post tandem of Shook (6’4) and Reshanda Gray (6’2). Those extra opportunities kept Indiana in the game and helped them climb out of several 2-3 possession deficits.

The Fever were simply victims of Sabrina Ionescu’s heroics.

“19 offensive rebounds usually gets it done,” Stanley said. “I asked our team to rebound. The last game we played, we had two offensive rebounds the whole game, so we did what we said we needed to do… we just couldn’t get that one [stop] on Ionescu. Would’ve been really helpful.”

While Sunday’s battle of the boards was much closer — the Fever won by a more narrow 40-38 margin — McCowan (10) and Lavender (a career-high 15) showed more of the same individual dominance in that area. Add in Lauren Cox when she returns from her right knee injury, and Indiana should be an extremely formidable team on the glass this season.

McCowan still adjusting to WNBA post defenses

Down 10 with just under six minutes remaining, the Fever’s chances of making a comeback on Sunday dwindled significantly when McCowan picked up her second technical foul of the game and was subsequently ejected.

After the 6’7 center had no problems against the Liberty defense on Friday, New York made a concerted effort to clog the paint and disrupt her ability to finish during the second matchup. McCowan was visibly frustrated with the officiating for most of the game, and finally made it known at a point where her team couldn’t afford to lose her.

Though easier said than done, McCowan is still working on remaining level-headed when opposing teams show her either multiple bodies in the paint, or ones that can match her size and physicality.

“That’s nice in a vacuum to say, just ignore all the pushing and shoving and grabbing. It’s very difficult,” Stanley said. “I do expect that Teaira needs to keep her composure and not get frustrated, but she’s human like everybody else, and I’m gonna have her back 100%.”

McCowan has appeared more aggressive early on this season, especially on Friday when she scored 22 points on 10-for-17 shooting. She’ll need to limit her technicals, however, as the Fever can’t afford to lose her in tight games.

“She’s got to continue to grow in the areas of maturity and understanding that, hey, playing in the post at this level, the physicality comes with the territory,” said Stanley.

Next Up

The Fever must be feeling as though they squandered an opportunity for a fast start this season after a tough home-and-home with a rebuilding Liberty team. They have no time to dwell on the disappointing weekend, however, as they travel to Connecticut to face the 2-0 Sun on Wednesday.

Does the lingering 0 in the win column provide any extra motivation for the Fever as they hit the road this week?

“You try not to think about it like that but, on the back end as a competitor, you need to win a game,” said Mitchell. “We need one to get us on the board somewhere. You try not to think about it so much, but it’s inevitable.”

Written by Ben Rosof

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