June 7, 2022 

‘We’re soft’: Losses piling up for Fever

Indiana is hunting for more energy, better third quarters

After a fun and promising start to the 2022 season, the Indiana Fever are back in a familiar place — the bottom of the WNBA standings.

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The Fever were at one point 2-2, and they were one rough third quarter against Atlanta away from reaching 3-2. More on third quarters later. Instead, they lost their fifth game, and then four more in a row after that. They found their footing in Carlos Knox first game as the team’s head coach, but have lost the three games since by a combined 34 points.

Put all together, Indiana has lost eight of their last nine games and now sits at 3-10. And nobody is happy about it.

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“For us, it’s all about mentality right now. We’re real loose, real casual. We’re lackadaisical. We’re soft,” guard Kelsey Mitchell said after the Fever fell to the Atlanta Dream earlier this week. Indiana scored just 66 points that night and had just 26 at halftime. “It has nothing to do with any ability on the court, anything you can practice. That’s just not being soft. That’s where we’re at right now. We’re battling everything that’s off the floor that has to do with internal stuff. That’s where we’re at with it.”

The red and blue looked miserable in that performance. Mitchell cruised to 20 points with ease, as she has done so often this year, but no other player on the Fever roster shot better than 37% (save for a 1-for-1 night from Tiffany Mitchell). Indiana coughed up 21 turnovers and attempted a season-low 43 two-point shot attempts. Atlanta, meanwhile, scored 32 points in the third quarter (noticing a trend?) and ran away with the game.

It was Indiana’s third straight game scoring 75 points or fewer. In their first ten games, that happened just twice. Indiana may be working through a coaching change, but they have looked miserable in recent games. Or, as Kelsey Mitchell explained, soft.

“We just expressed to one another that you either buy in or you get out. Myself included. If I can’t give everything I’ve got to give, then don’t play,” the Ohio State product said of overcoming their current lacking energy level. “That’s where we’re at. And it’s raw and uncut right now, but that’s what we need. There’s not more sugar coating the idea of us losing, how we’re losing. We’re in every game close and it makes no sense that it comes down to effort. And that’s where we’re at.”

Mitchell’s tone was more alarmed after that Atlanta game than it has been after any other battle this season. She was serious, yet passionate, in a way that is usually only reflected in her play. Rookie guard Destanni Henderson, who was speaking to the media at the same time, nodded along while Mitchell detailed the Fever’s mentality issues, and Henderson shared a point about communication that Mitchell nodded in agreement with. There was a lot of nodding, but not for good reason.

In short, the Indiana Fever need to get their energy and focus levels up. And fast, because the losses are piling up.

One portion of the game that has been killer for Indiana has been their third quarter performances. The Fever’s -17.4 net rating in third frames ranks last in the league, and they have been outscored 105-77 in those quarters since Knox took over the team. Once halftime ends, the Fever get pushed around.

“We had just kind of a lack of focus, our third quarter,” Knox said of his team’s third quarter in Atlanta. The coach thinks that it’s just a coincidence, rather than something innate about the team, that third quarters happen to be when the Fever struggle.

“I just think it’s coincidental, to be honest,” he said. “It’s something that we’ll talk about, me and my staff.” He added that the team needs better focus and energy in those instances. Second overall pick NaLyssa Smith explained that the third quarter can change the whole game and is, in her eyes, one of the most important stretches of basketball.

Yet the Indiana Fever struggle in those moments. And it’s emblematic of their struggles and issues that are holding them back.

“We have to stop practicing sometimes because when we start, it’s like we start in the third quarter,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes in practice lately we’ve been having to correct certain energy and certain effort. So we’re going to be the last team on the board again, or we can buy in. That’s where we’re at.”

After losing on Sunday, combined with the Phoenix Mercury winning on the same day, the Fever are once again the team on the bottom of the WNBA standings. They need to focus and buy in. They need to bring their energy up to avoid another lengthy losing streak, and another season like 2021.

It will take effort to get there. Indiana players need to communicate better, get on the same page, improve their mentality, and resolve their third quarter issues. Those changes in habits will take time, especially with a new coaching staff and several rookies. But those adjustments will fix some of the current issues plaguing the team, and a franchise searching for improvement needs to develop better mentality. It starts with more energy, more focus, and more urgency in practice. Only then will it translate to games, and win, for the Indiana Fever.

Indiana Fever sign Emma Cannon

One way to improve the energy and mentality of a team is to bring in a hard-nosed veteran. And the Fever did that this week by re-acquiring Emma Cannon, who played in a dozen games for the team in 2021. She played in one game for the Mercury earlier this season and fills the roster spot that opened when Alanna Smith was waived.

“Emma is highly competitive and we love how hard she plays on the defensive end,” Lin Dunn, the Fever’s interim General Manager, said in a team-issued statement. Indiana need all of those traits: competitors, veterans, and strong defenders.

Cannon averaged 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for the red and blue last season. In addition, the team’s defense was better with the three-year pro on the court than off, per pbpstats.com.

“She has a lot of energy, she has a tremendous amount of focus,” Knox said of Cannon. He noted that her veteran experience will help on a younger team, and those benefits could not come soon enough for a sliding Fever group.

Written by Tony East

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

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