June 21, 2024 

The Indiana Fever are winning. More importantly, their best players are gelling

Results are great for a team that has playoff hopes, but the most important thing is building a long-term foundation

The Indiana Fever have won five of their last seven games. It’s one of the team’s best stretches in recent memory, and they are currently on a three-game winning streak. After a dismal 1-8 start that overlapped with a brutal schedule, the Fever are hitting their stride. Yet that isn’t the most important thing happening in Indiana right now — it’s that the team’s best players are all gelling.

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Results are great for a team that has playoff hopes, but the most important thing is building a long-term foundation. The simultaneous success of starters Caitlin Clark, Aliyah Boston, Kelsey Mitchell and NaLyssa Smith is what matters most for the squad.

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“They’re feeling what it should have felt like at the beginning,” Fever head coach Christie Sides said Wednesday night. “Just really proud of them. Fourth home win in a row, it’s really exciting for the Fever.”

Across the first 14 games for the Indiana Fever, individual members of that quartet were all effective at times. Clark had two different 30-point games. Smith had three double-doubles, including one with 23 points. Boston started slow but turned back into her All-Star self after seven games, and Mitchell’s scoring level rose as she got healthier — including two much-needed 20+ point outings with three outside shots. All four players had high peaks.

Yet often, those impressive nights wouldn’t overlap. Clark, Mitchell and Boston were all great in the Fever’s first win of the season, but Smith had an off night. Smith and Clark were near their best six days later against the Seattle Storm, but not the other pair. Boston and Mitchell were dominant in a victory over the Atlanta Dream last week. But it had never been all four players at the same time.

In the last five days, that has changed. In both of Indiana’s last two wins, their core four has been in sync. They all shined together, and the result was two wins. Those victories were the largest and tied for the second largest in score margin this season.

“I think chemistry and experience. I think we have a relatively young group, and you need experience in this league,” Mitchell said of what is helping the quartet click. “You’ve got to know the people you’re playing with. You’ve got to know what spot they like, you’ve got to know how you’ve got to pass it. You’ve got to know where they’re the most comfortable, where they are uncomfortable. All that stuff matters, and I think we are starting to master how to play with each other.”

Against the Chicago Sky last Sunday, Clark had what some have called her best game of the season, finishing with 23 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. Smith was a beast in the fourth quarter and walked away with 15 points and seven boards. Boston was clutch once again, adding 19 points and 14 rebounds. Mitchell had 17 points on 54% shooting. Altogether, they were unstoppable, scoring 74 of Indiana’s 91 points.

Three days later, it was much of the same as the Indiana Fever toppled the Washington Mystics. Those four were the players to reach double figures in scoring for the Fever, and they all contributed in major ways. Boston led the way, but they were all at or near their best once again.

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Beyond the stats, balance has been noteworthy. Against Chicago, Mitchell and Boston took 13 shots. Clark took 11 while Smith got up 10. They shared the wealth. Three days later, Clark got up 12 while Mitchell and Boston took 11 shots. Smith took eight. On any random possession, any one of those four players could be the answer. They’re figuring out when to use each other, and it’s been valuable in getting wins.

“I think a lot has to do with just understanding when we’re playing at a fast pace. If you have the advantage [of] three-on-two, two-on-one — you keep that advantage and you keep attacking,” Sides said of their players’ overlapping success. “We’re really learning that when we’re back five-on-five, [we’ve] lost that advantage and we’ve got to execute. We’re doing a much better job executing,” she added, noting that practice time has helped.

This is what the Indiana Fever want to see. Simultaneously, the team is developing and winning. They hoped to see their young core grow both as individuals and teammates this season while pulling in victories. Finally, in these past two games, that has happened.

After a hellacious start to the season in terms of scheduling, the Fever finally were at home with easier opponents for the last few weeks. They took advantage, winning five out of seven games and figuring out how to have their best players gel. They have found something in terms of success as a team, and if it holds going forward as Indiana embarks on a road trip, this stretch could be remembered as one of the most important in the season.

Written by Tony East

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

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