May 28, 2022 

How the Indiana Fever emerged victorious in Carlos Knox’s first game as interim head coach

The beginning of a new era for the Indiana Fever

The normal home for the Indiana Fever, Gainbridge Fieldhouse, is undergoing construction, so the team has relocated to Indiana Farmers Coliseum for the time being. That could not be more fitting after the franchise made a coaching change earlier this week.

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The new man at the front of the bench is Carlos Knox, a former assistant with the team who is currently in his first stint as a WNBA head coach. Prior to coaching, he was a player, and a great one at that: At IUPUI, Knox was an All-American and still holds numerous school records, including the scoring title. As a result, his jersey was retired, and it hangs in the rafters at Indiana Farmers Coliseum to this day.

Carlox Knox Indiana Fever IUPUI
Carlos Knox’s IUPUI jersey hangs in the rafters of Indiana Farmers Coliseum. (Photo credit: Tony East)

In a perfectly fitting moment, Knox debuted as the Fever’s interim head coach in that arena on Friday. And how fitting that Indiana had no trouble scoring in its first game with Knox at the helm — a 101-96 win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

The day before the game, Knox shared that the Fever would play with more energy and execute a speedy, up-and-down style. Guard Kelsey Mitchell shared a similar idea, noting that Knox could help the Fever play with more pace and accountability.

“We definitely had a bounce in our step. It’s a lot more energy,” Mitchell said after the team’s first practice under Knox. “We think that energy that we built today, hopefully we can keep it going.”

It wasn’t clear at that time exactly what more energy would look like on the court. Before the game on Friday, Knox said that more energy would lead to more focus, but the specifics were still unclear. The Fever were going to show everyone what more energy looks like, not tell.

And on the court in their first game of a new era, in front of a crowd that featured WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, the Fever showed that it looks like a fast pace and high-powered offense.

The battle started out about as well for the Fever as anyone could have imagined. The red and blue scored 55 points in the first half, the most they have scored in any half this season. Indiana was melting the nets with hot shooting from the outside, and there was a clear emphasis on drives and ball movement. The Fever were getting to the rim, passing the ball to the right places at the right times, and knocking down shots.

It continued all night. The Fever played some of the best basketball they’ve played in a while for the first 25 minutes before giving up an 11-2 Sparks run. Then Knox took a timeout to gather his squad, and the Fever played the Sparks evenly for the rest of the third quarter.

“Knowing the game, time and score, I love it. I love it,” Knox said before the game. The timing of his timeouts made that skill clear on Friday. “It’s one of my strong suits. I watch the game at a very high level.”

In the fourth quarter, the Fever looked like they were going to give the game away. The Sparks slowly but surely cut the lead to as little as two late in the quarter, and with 1:22 left in the game, it was 95-93. But then Knox called another timeout.

Los Angeles only hit one more shot the rest of the way, and the Fever finished strong to earn the victory. Indiana knew it had the game in the bag with about 20 seconds to go, and rookies NaLyssa Smith and Destanni Henderson began to celebrate with their new coach on the sidelines during free throws. Indiana held on for a big win, both in terms of timing and impact, and the Carlos Knox era had officially begun.

Then this happened.

“I can’t explain it. It felt so marvelous. Those young ladies mean so much to me. They’re like my daughters,” Knox said of the team’s celebration at the end of the game. “They were very excited for me, very happy for me.”

Smith, in particular, was thrilled for Knox. “I love ‘Los. I feel like there’s no one more deserving than him,” she said. The second overall pick finished with 17 points and five rebounds in the win. “When he got called on to get that position, it just amps you up. When genuine people get things that they deserve, it just makes you feel better. I’m glad he’s our coach.”

The Indiana Fever snapped a five-game losing streak and improved to 3-7. That’s still a poor record, but the team is clearly better than it was last season, and the Knox era is off to a strong start.

On the court, a few differences stood out for the new-look Fever. At the top of the list is how often the team attacked the rim, which led to good looks at the basket and a season-high 29 free throw attempts. Free throws are the most efficient shot in basketball, and shots from so close to the cup are also analytics-friendly, so it’s no surprise that a drive-heavy strategy paid off for the Fever.

“Absolutely, yes. That was one of the things that I talked about yesterday,” Knox said when asked whether attacking the basket was an emphasis. “I wanted to make sure that we play a fast pace. We have guards that can really get downhill. We have guards that can really shoot the basketball, and we have agile forwards … so we want to make sure that we are utilizing our strengths on the floor.”

The Indiana Fever didn’t just preach a fast pace; they also executed it. Against the Sparks, the team averaged its fewest seconds per offensive possession of the season at 13.96, per pbpstats.com.

Several other stats painted the Fever’s performance in a positive light. They had 23 assists, a season high, on their 32 made shots. Indiana scored 57 points off of those assists, which was also a season high. The 13 turnovers were the second fewest the Fever have had in a game this season. They were focused, and it resulted in a win.

“Honestly, our focus has been coming out and starting games out really well in the first half and second half. So if attacking the rim is what it is, it’s what it is,” forward Victoria Vivians said after the game. “If shooting threes and they’re going in is what it is, it’s what it is. It’s whatever is working at that time.”

The Indiana Fever will get a chance to prove that this is how they will look on a night-to-night basis on Tuesday against the Washington Mystics. In the meantime, there will be a celebration for Knox after winning his first game as interim head coach.

Well, a little celebration. About 20 minutes’ worth, Knox said. He explained that, after the win over Los Angeles, he was going to look at the game film that night to find things the Fever can improve on. Improvement is the name of the game for the red and blue this season, after all.

And this win for the Fever displayed improvement. They looked great, and under a new head coach, they hope this level of play becomes an expectation going forward.

“We want to win, period. Winning for Carlos would be icing on the cake,” guard Danielle Robinson said before the game.

The Fever played Knox’s way, and if how they played in game one under a new coach is any indication, they will be a better team going forward.

Written by Tony East

Indiana Fever reporter based in Indianapolis. Enjoy a good statistical-based argument.

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