August 19, 2021
Fever notes: Victoria Vivians, inconsistent offense, unexpected absences
Looking to continue the momentum generated by a surprising three-game winning streak heading into the Olympic break, the Indiana Fever began the second “half” of their season with a west coast road trip. Although they’ve hung tight against their first two opponents, the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury, they’ve been unable to string…
Looking to continue the momentum generated by a surprising three-game winning streak heading into the Olympic break, the Indiana Fever began the second “half” of their season with a west coast road trip. Although they’ve hung tight against their first two opponents, the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury, they’ve been unable to string together consistent, 40-minute efforts, a struggle that led them to drop both contests and fall to 4-18.
After over a full calendar month without any live action — no Fever players played in the WNBA All Star Game or the Olympics — what have we learned about the team over their first two games of the second half?
Victoria Vivians has stepped up
Vivians, the third-year sharpshooter, has experienced a difficult, injury-marred three-year stretch following a promising rookie season in 2018. The whole coaching staff had been waiting for Vivians to erupt in 2021, and she’s finally healthy and ready for a more prominent role in the rotation — one that had eluded her, until Sunday’s loss to Los Angeles.
Head Coach Marianne Stanley has turned to Vivians as her first option off the bench in both games since the break. Vivians saw 22 minutes of action against LA, scoring 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting — she followed that up with 16 points in 30 minutes, a season-high. She believes she’s been capable of these types of performances the whole season, it’s just been a matter of seizing her opportunity.
“Just getting my playing time and just going in and executing and giving good minutes off the bench, that’s been my main focus when I get in and get the opportunity to play,” Vivians said after the loss to Phoenix. “Just capitalize.”
Stanley has used Vivians at the four position in small rotations, with the newly-acquired Emma Cannon at the five and typically Danielle Robinson, Tiffany Mitchell and Kelsey Mitchell rounding out the lineup. When Teaira McCowan enters the game, she also provides an inside presence to counter Vivians’ perimeter-oriented style of play.
“The four is pretty cool, I’m doing well in it,” Vivians said. “I feel like it’s helping the team out a lot because me, coming in as a four, most fours are mobile but they’re not me. I’m a stretch four, I can shoot it or I can take it off the bounce, so I feel like it’s very beneficial for our team and most teams can’t pack the paint when I’m in at the four.”
Perhaps even more encouraging than her recent versatility in the lineup has been Vivians’ efficient and timely shooting. During her rookie year, Vivians shot 39.9% from three-point distance, ranking 10th in the WNBA. That number took a massive dip in 2020, when she connected on just 2-for-11 attempts — it also carried over into 2021, as she entered Tuesday’s game shooting just 25.7% from long range.
Vivians flashed back to her old self against the Mercury, connecting on five of her nine three-point attempts. She knocked two crucial threes in the final three minutes against Phoenix to trim the mercury lead to seven, then later two.
“It just gives us a different dimension,” Stanley said of Vivians’ contributions. “When you have a front line player who can shoot the deep three, it just changes the way people can guard you, it helps Teaira in the post, it helps our guards with driving lanes.”
Offensive lulls doom chances at victories
In Los Angeles, the Fever put up 46 points over the first two quarters and trailed by three at the halftime break. However, their offense completely imploded in the second half, scoring over 24 points and failing to capitalize on a strong defensive effort on the other end (Indiana limited LA to just 26 second half points).
In the fourth quarter, the Fever scored only five points in the final 7:48 of game action, including a four-plus minute drought without scoring at all — players were standing around without creating angles for one another and eventually forced to take end-of-the-shot-clock heaves, two of which resulted in air balls.
“I think they’re empty possessions,” said Danielle Robinson. “We’re trying to make home run plays, I think we start feeling it and it’s like, ‘okay, we can get something quick.’ We don’t make them guard and we go away from what we were doing to be successful. We had them switching sides of the floor, guarding multiple actions and then we go into shooting quick shots or just not being organized offensively.”
Perhaps the most glaring example of how the Fever lost their way offensively came with 15.9 seconds left, when they trailed 73-70 and had possession with the chance to tie. Indiana called timeout, advanced the ball, and clearly attempted to draw up a play for Kelsey Mitchell, who ran through screens by both Emma Cannon and Vivians to attempt to receive the inbound. LA’s Brittney Sykes stayed with her, so the pass went to directly to Cannon instead, and the play broke down from there.
Ironically, with seven seconds remaining, Mitchell eventually did free herself for a corner three. By that time, the Fever were in scramble mode and Robinson — a career 17.1% three-point shooter — fired up a brick.
The same offensive lull bedeviled the Fever in the third quarter against Phoenix, when they were outscored 23-15 and committed six turnovers. Phoenix used a 9-0 run spanning the end of the third and fourth quarters to build themselves a lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way.
“We want to play a complete 40 minutes where we have a couple possessions, maybe, where we come empty, but we don’t have four and five where we come up empty,” Stanley said. “That’s tough.”
Unexpected injuries, and absences, during return to action
When Fever fans tuned into their team’s first game in five weeks, they likely noticed some notable faces that did not appear on the court or the bench. During the layoff, the Fever released a list of roster changes, several of which affected key players in their rotation.
Bernadett Hatar was listed as out indefinitely, as she’s continuing to deal with the same right ankle ailment that kept her out of the last two games before the break.
Kysre Gondrezick, the fourth overall draft pick who’s been largely ineffective in limited playing time this season, is on “personal leave from the team.” Gondrezick hadn’t cracked 10 minutes in a game since June 17, and received a DNP-CD in a July 3 win against Connecticut. She’s averaging only 1.9 points on 28.3% shooting in just 9.1 minutes per game.
Chelsey Perry, who was signed on June 28 to replace the waived Lauren Cox, sustained a right knee injury in practice on August 9. The severity is currently unknown, but the Fever say she’ll be evaluated at a later date. Perry had played in six games before going down but struggled with her shot, connecting on just five of 18 total attempts.
Emma Cannon’s signing was due to a medical hardship exemption for Jantel Lavender, who was listed as out of the games against Los Angeles and Phoenix with a left knee injury. Lavender didn’t play the Fever’s final game before the break in Atlanta, but Indiana had previously attributed her absence to “load management.” It’s unclear the specific moment at which Lavender sustained the injury — whether prior to the Atlanta game or over the break — but it offers some clarity to the signing of Cannon.
Despite scoring only seven points over two games, Cannon has filled in nicely. She’s played hard enough defensively — even against the likes of Nneka Ogwumike and Brittney Griner — to earn Stanley’s notice and play 35 total minutes.
“I thought Emma did a really nice job, at the defensive end in particular,” Stanley said after Cannon’s debut for the team in Los Angeles. “She’s an undersized post player but she plays bigger than she is. She made some critical defensive plays that really helped us, so I was pretty pleased for her first time.”
The Fever have suited up, and played, all nine available players on the roster this week. But after a time when many teams were able to heal their injured players for the home stretch of the season, Indiana’s emerged more banged up than when it began.
Maybe Indiana can go get Marie Gulich. She played college ball at Oregon State and eventually landed on the end of the bench of the overrated Derick Fisher and the LA Sparks. She currently is not in the W.