August 12, 2023
‘Pineapple!’ How a fruit keeps the Indiana Fever focused
The Indiana Fever stayed composed for an important win on Thursday. A tropical fruit was a big factor.
The Indiana Fever have struggled to hold on to leads this season. Their struggles in the clutch have been the biggest story of their season, and inconsistent play across a full 40 minutes has held the team back from multiple wins.
On Tuesday, it happened again. The Fever held a 73-72 lead over the Los Angeles Sparks with 4:13 to go. They ended up conceding 15 points the rest of the way and losing by seven.
“They hit shots and they made plays. We didn’t execute … they just executed better than us,” rookie guard Grace Berger said after the game. It was Indiana’s 15th loss by fewer than 10 points this season.
Head coach Christie Sides, who wear hers emotions on her sleeve and preaches the details, was particularly frustrated after the loss to Los Angeles. “There just comes a time where adversity sets in for us, things get hard [and] we revert back to old habits. Bad habits,” Sides said in her postgame press conference. She believes that her team falls apart too often when pressured. “I don’t know why or how that when we do things that are working, we go away from them. We get closed and we don’t communicate on defense … You’ve got to step up to the occasion. You’ve got to step up to the challenge.”
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Two weeks earlier, the Fever had had an equally crushing defeat against Los Angeles. They led by five points with 2:40 to go and by two with just 39 seconds on the clock but lost 79-78. It was another example of what Sides was referring to.
“When we’re not getting stops and the shots aren’t falling, we just clam up,” she said this week. “We aren’t strong enough, tough enough. We don’t have anyone to just grab us all together and say, ‘It’s going to be all right.'”
The Fever needed a solution. They didn’t want to keep losing close games and relying on bad habits. So, in a team meeting, the players came up with a catchphrase they could use to keep each other grounded and focused: “Pineapple.”
Unsurprisingly, some of the team’s leaders came up with the word: rookie Aliyah Boston and veterans Emma Cannon and Amanda Zahui B. “A couple people thought of it at the same time, and so it was kind of like a weird coincidence,” Boston said.
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After one night with the catchphrase, it’s clear why Indiana implemented it. Two days after Sides had bemoaned the team’s performance, the Fever crushed the Minnesota Lynx behind 15 points and 13 rebounds from Boston.
The final score was 91-73, but it didn’t feel that close. The Fever were up by double digits at halftime, and the Lynx closed to within 10 points for all of 26 seconds in the entire second half. Indiana stayed focused to grab its eighth win of the season and escape the league’s basement (albeit temporarily).
The team’s composure came from repeating the name of the tropical fruit.
Mitchell shared that Boston and Cannon used the word most often throughout the game. Fever players listen when those two speak. It’s no surprise that they were the drivers on Thursday.
When Sides was asked about the catchphrase, she lowered her shoulders and shoved her hand into the podium, which was effectively an eye roll with her whole body.
“If it works for them, ‘pineapple, pineapple, pineapple,'” Sides said. “I don’t know. They came up with that. [It] changed the mindset.”
“If it works, whatever. I’m good with it,” she added. “I’ll put pineapples in their lockers.”
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Thursday’s victory over the Lynx was just that for the Fever: one win. But given the team’s struggles with consistency and focus, it represented much more. The players finally found something they can use to stay engaged and not shake their mentality over the course of a game. With 10 regular-season games left, “pineapple” could be what helps Indiana close the season strong.