August 6, 2020
What did the Indiana Fever learn in the fourth quarter?
'Everyone has to step up'
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Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell (0) shoots during the WNBA game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 28, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss
Through the first five games of the 2020 WNBA season, the Indiana Fever have struggled to establish consistency in their play and, consequently, their results.
Just three days after shooting a season-high 52% from the field against the Atlanta Dream, the Fever converted on just 41% of their shot attempts in an 86-75 setback to Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday. The result continued Indiana’s pattern of alternating wins and losses and dropped them to 2-3 on the year.
The Fever opened the game struggling to take care of the basketball, committing seven turnovers in the first quarter. Indiana added two more costly giveaways — including Julie Allemand’s errant pass and Candice Dupree’s dribble into a double team — as Los Angeles closed out the second quarter on a 6-0 run and stretched a three point lead to 11 by halftime.
Though Indiana fell further behind in the third quarter and trailed by as many as 21 early in the fourth, the Fever’s reserves entered the game and managed to cut the deficit to seven with under two minutes remaining. However, the lead eventually proved insurmountable and the Sparks captured their third win of the year.
“You play the whole game, you don’t play parts of it,” said Fever Coach Marianne Stanley after the loss. “I like the fact that we didn’t stop playing… we had some people that haven’t gotten a lot of minutes, were out there. We played together and we played hard. There were stretches in the game where I felt like the physicality L.A. that played with really bothered us and kind of got us out of our game and that led to the big deficit. But I think we kind of put all that aside and just played in the fourth quarter and it made a difference.”
As the Fever were making a late push, Stanley featured Kelsey Mitchell on the court alongside some of her younger bench players, such as Kathleen Doyle and Stephanie Mavunga. The move came as the Sparks rested their starters for a majority of the fourth quarter. Mitchell capitalized on the opportunity, scoring 12 points in the final frame to finish with 24 overall.
“A lot of times when you see big players go out of the game, it’s a chance to make a run,” Mitchell said. “It was just a lot about hard work and ‘let’s just not go out like we’re only excited to be here.’ When you see Indiana on our chest, I want it to feel like that.”
Though former WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike was unavailable for LA in the second half because of a hamstring injury, it was Candace Parker that did most of the damage on Wednesday night. The Sparks’ other former MVP posted a team-high 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds in just 23 minutes.
“[Parker’s] a great player,” said Teaira McCowan, who scored 13 points and was matched up with Parker for most of the game. “I just knew going into the game it was gonna be… a challenge for me because she can take me off the bounce, she can shoot it, she can post, I just had to do all those things.”
While the win concluded a W-L-W-L-W start for the Sparks, the loss capped off a mirror opposite sequence for the Fever who have yet to string together consecutive wins. What will it take for Indiana to establish consistency as they try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016?
“Everyone has to step up,” answered McCowan. “With this being an odd season, it does have an effect on us somewhat but at the same time, we’re pros so we have to make those shots that we’re supposed to make. We have to take it to the other team, we can’t allow teams to go on a run… we have to match the energy.”
The loss also marked the WNBA debut of Indiana rookie Lauren Cox, the third overall selection in the 2020 draft. After battling COVID-19 symptoms, the Baylor product finally stepped onto the court Wednesday after just one practice and two walkthroughs with the Fever. She logged one point and six rebounds in just under 17 minutes.
“I’m expecting [Cox] to just step-by-step get with things,” Stanley said. “I think there were times when she acquitted herself well. She got a little bit ahead of the game defensively more so than offensively, but it’s going to take time.”
The Fever return to the court this Friday at 6 p.m. EST against the 3-1 Minnesota Lynx.
Other Fever Notes
Add guard Victoria Vivians to the Fever’s carousel of missing players so far this season, as she sat out Wednesday’s game with a right knee injury. Before tip-off, Stanley noted that Vivians has been shooting on the side, remains day-to-day and should return soon.
“Serious injury averted, for sure,” said Stanley.
Because this was technically a Los Angeles home game, the contest tipped off just after 10 p.m. EST, a significantly later start time for a Fever team that is usually based in the eastern time zone. Natalie Achonwa, who missed the game with a right hamstring injury, was seen walking through the pregame media availability with a coffee in hand.
All teams must accommodate unordinary start times this season due to the compact nature of the game schedule as well as the limited number of available courts at IMG Academy. Though Stanley acknowledged the oddity of the situation, she downplayed the disadvantage of a late start.
“Just making sure that they’re eating, staying hydrated,” Stanley said before the game on how she kept her players energized. “I look at these kind of things as, you know, you don’t make a big deal out of it, it’s not a big deal. Everybody’s gotta play them, and it’s our turn this time tonight so we’re ready to go.”
Monday’s Day Off
The Fever had an extra day off on Monday before Wednesday’s game against the Sparks, a rare opportunity to physically recuperate for one of the 12 teams cramming 22 games into seven weeks during this unprecedented WNBA season.
Julie Allemand — a rookie averaging 31.6 minutes per game — has been outspoken about the toll that the prominent starting point guard role has taken on her. Talking to reporters on Tuesday, Allemand changed her tone, exclaiming how happy she was for the chance to rest.
“I was almost running in the hotel,” Allemand said. “I was too excited because yesterday, yeah, we had a day off just to not be on the court, just not see the ball for one day. It’s so important especially mentally, and also when you feel that your legs are back because last game, I was really tired.”
With last year’s starting point guard Erica Wheeler still in the WNBA’s COVID-19 protocol — a process that Stanley called “week-to-week,” — a reduction in Allemand’s minutes remains unlikely in the near future.
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