June 26, 2021 

How the Fever squandered a prime opportunity for their second win

Indiana's losing streak reaches 11, the longest in franchise history

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Indiana Fever players including Danielle Robinson (3) and Tiffany Mitchell (right of Robinson) talk in the huddle. (Photo credit: Indiana Fever Twitter page)

If there was ever a perfect night for the Indiana Fever to start steering their sinking ship in the right direction, it would’ve been Thursday.

They had returned to Indiana to begin a four-game homestand, had four days to practice and physically recover, and were facing a Dallas Wings team that had lost three of its last four games.

But the Titanic continued to plummet.

Indiana was outclassed by the Wings, 89-64, at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, the team’s temporary home while Bankers Life Fieldhouse continues to undergo renovations. Although right now, it doesn’t seem to matter which court serves as the backdrop for a Fever game—it’s nearly a given that they’ll underperform.

“I’m just really, really disappointed because that’s far from the result we want to see,” head coach Marianne Stanley said. “It’s far from our best effort.”

The story of Indiana’s season has been taking one step forward and two steps back—seemingly every time the Fever produce encouraging performances, they’re unable to capitalize off them and eventually find new ways to lose. Saturday’s contest against Washington was there for the taking—the Fever were down 71-69 with just over three minutes remaining but surrendered a 9-2 run down the stretch to fall on the road. 

The Fever had no such opportunity on Thursday, a game they never led, as they trailed by 12 after the first quarter and 19 by halftime. Their record is now 1-15 and the losing streak has reached 11 games, the worst stretch in franchise history.

“We were not at our best, far from it, and that’s what I told our team after the game,” Stanley added. “We need to be better, period.”

Stanley mentioned before the game how this homestand was a prime opportunity to inch towards the middle of the pack in the league standings, as the teams in third through 11th place are currently separated by only 3.5 games. The Fever, however, failed to give any indication they were up for the challenge and, at the official halfway mark of their season, now sit 5.5 games behind the 11th-place Atlanta Dream.

“It was a big-time opportunity and, unfortunately, we didn’t take on the task … well at all, to be honest,” said Kelsey Mitchell. “It sucks.”

After an 0-for-9 first half in which she looked to be forcing her shots to drag her team out of the mud, Mitchell settled in during the second half and finished with 24 points. She helped her team trim the halftime deficit to eight in the third quarter, but Dallas promptly responded with a 6-0 run and never trailed by less than 12 the rest of the way.

“I think the giddy-up that we had in that third quarter kind of put us in a position to try to compete,” Mitchell added. “Unfortunately, it got away from us, though.”

Thursday’s game continued a disturbing, season-long trend for the Fever: a massive struggle to shoot the ball from all areas of the court. Indiana entered the night ranked tenth in the league in overall field goal percentage (41 percent) and last in 3-point percentage (27 percent). 

In the first half, everyone other than Jantel Lavender shot a combined 5-for-32 (16 percent). There were possessions where guards were forced to heave prayers at the end of the shot clock, but also ones where posts missed easy layups and turnaround jumpers in the paint. It didn’t seem to matter whether the quality of shot was good or bad—they weren’t falling either way.

“I can’t explain tonight, I really can’t,” Stanley said. “We did practice well, we’ve worked hard and for whatever reason, there’s a lid on the basket. We missed layups, we missed wide open shots … can’t play like that and expect to win.”

Stanley gave playing time to all 12 players on the roster Thursday, but nobody seemed to offer the spark she was looking for. Aaliyah Wilson, the 2021 11th overall pick whom the Fever acquired via trade on draft night, even saw her first minutes of the season, but she promptly turned the ball over on two consecutive possessions. The seven bench players contributed just six total points.

Lavender—who was playing through soreness in her right ankle—was seemingly the only player interested in competing during the first half, as she turned in 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting to save Indiana from an even steeper deficit.

After the game, she admitted that the Fever’s dead-last position in the standings could be creeping into the back of their minds and playing a role in the team’s rushed and inaccurate performance offensively.

“I think we’re kind of dwelling on the record too much,” Lavender said. “That could put you in kind of a drab, mellow type mood, but we have to find it. Somehow we have to find it.”

The ten-year veteran has never experienced losing like this during her WNBA career—the worst team she had been on previously was the 2015 Los Angeles Sparks, which finished 14-20. With a team reeling like the 2021 Fever, she knows that puts a target on their backs, and not in the way they’d like.

“People are going to come out and make sure they’re not the team to lose to us,” she said. “We have to have that sense of urgency to understand that, and I don’t think we have that yet.”

With the next two games of the homestand coming against the Connecticut Sun, another opportunity to end this franchise-long streak of futility awaits the Fever. It’s up to them how badly they’d like to seize it.

“I just challenge everybody to get better,” Stanley said. “Look in the mirror, figure out what it is you need to … be better at and do it.”

Written by Ben Rosof

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