Indiana beats the Liberty for the second time in eight days
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Fever coach Pokey Chatman could be heard yelling for joy before she came out to talk to reporters following her team’s 92-77 victory over New York on Saturday.
Chatman then pounded the podium several times after she spoke with reporters because she was so happy her team has won two of its first three games.
“It was nice to get another win,” Chatman said after Saturday’s victory, which saw her team lead 26-7 after the first quarter. “Especially at home, with (Shenise Johnson) not being available today, it was nice seeing those starters step up on the defensive end of the floor … and I thought when we substituted and got some different players in, there was not a drop-off.”
Chatman’s players showed the same enthusiasm in the locker room after they improved to 2-1 on the season. During last year’s disastrous 6-28 campaign, Indiana didn’t win its second game until July 3. The Fever haven’t been over .500 this late in the season since they were 16-15 on September 1, 2016.
The team celebrated the 20th anniversary of its first game, which was on June 1, 2000. There were several videos that showed proud moments in Fever history, including their 2012 championship. Kelsey Mitchell and the rest of her teammates want to help Indiana return to being one of the league’s best.
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“Let’s be honest, we know what it’s like to lose,” said Mitchell, who tied a career-high with five three-pointers during Saturday’s game. “No one wants to do that (again this year), so our approach is different.”
Mitchell led the Fever with 23 points, but she was most impressed with her team’s commitment on the defensive end.
Chatman agreed that the Fever won this game with defense. She wants her team to continue showing the same grit on defense that they showed on Saturday night. They held New York to just 22.6% shooting in the first half and 34.7% for the game.
“Early in the season, everyone’s trying to figure things out offensively. There are new coaches, there are new players, there are injured players … so it’s really about us, staying connected to the defensive message and being a dirt-work, blue-collar team,” Chatman said.
Her team did the dirt work and glamor work in a game where the Fever got out to an 11-0 lead. They led by double digits for most of the game.
Dirt work — The Fever’s energy on defense was contagious
The Fever set the tone by getting out to an 11-0 lead just two and a half minutes into the game. The team seemed energized by the defensive stops they got early on and turned those stops into quick baskets. Mitchell hit a three at the 8:49 mark of the first quarter, which happened just five seconds after the Fever got a stop. About a minute later, guard Betnijah Laney scored a fast-break layup just two seconds after the Fever rebounded a Liberty miss.
The defensive energy was contagious. Rookie center Teaira McCowan entered the game with 4:32 left in the first quarter. She grabbed rebounds on her first two defensive possessions. She also made a strong block in the third quarter that caused a massive celebration on Indiana’s bench.
Rookie guard Paris Kea fed off that defensive energy when she checked in to her first regular season game late in the first quarter. She blocked a shot and made several deflections in the first few minutes. She scored five points in the second quarter.
Laney led the team with three steals. She also scored nine points on 4-7 shooting, but Chatman said Laney was another player who played with tremendous energy on defense.
“(Laney is) such a beast in her ability to move around and it elevates everyone else,” Chatman said. “So she’s getting deflections and everyone else wants to get a deflection and that’s the dirt work that we’re going to need until we gain some experience.”
Guard Erica Wheeler recorded her 100th steal with Indiana.
Glamor work — The Fever get it done on the offensive end as well
It was a night of milestones for Wheeler, who also scored her 1,000th career point as a member of the Fever. She scored 10 points on 4-7 shooting and led the Fever with six assists.
Wheeler was proud when she learned about these milestones after the game. She was undrafted when she graduated from Rutgers in 2013. After bouncing around among a few teams early in her career, she has been a staple in the Indiana lineup since she joined the Fever in 2016.
“It just shows I work hard,” Wheeler said. “You know, nothing is given, I earn everything and it’s just amazing to be in Indiana to do it.”
Kelsey Mitchell, who finished third all-time among WNBA rookies last year with 70 three-pointers, hit just 4-20 shots in her first two games. On Saturday, she made her first three-pointer of the season about a minute into the game. Mitchell made 5 of her 7 three-pointers and shot 8 of 14 overall. She tied her career-high for most threes in a game.
After the game, Mitchell thanked people like her family and assistant coach Christie Sides who kept her confidence up after a tough start to the season.
“People like that, specifically coach Christie, she’s been a really good help since the season started,” Mitchell said. “We’re only a few games in … but it feels good.”
Every rookie contributed
All 11 players who were active for the Fever scored. That included rookies Kea and Kennedy Burke, who appeared in their first regular season WNBA game.
Kea scored 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting in 14 minutes. She was one of four Fever players to score in double figures. The former North Carolina standout also dished out three assists. Kea showed why Chatman was thrilled to take her with the 25th pick in the draft. During training camp, Chatman said she couldn’t believe Kea was still on the draft board when the Fever got to pick at 25. On Saturday, Kea showed why Chatman was so high on her.
Meanwhile, Burke made all of her shots and scored seven points. She made a three-pointer and went 4-4 from the foul line in 16 minutes of action. Burke, who played at UCLA, was the 22nd pick in the draft by the Dallas Wing. The Wings waived Burke on May 22, then Chatman signed her on May 25.
McCowan, who was in foul trouble the last time these teams met in New York, only picked up three fouls on Saturday. She led the Fever with six rebounds. She also had two blocks and three points, but the stats don’t measure how many shots she altered on defense. There were several times when a Liberty player drove to the basket, but pulled up for an 8-to-10-foot jumper instead of driving all the way to the hoop against McCowan. That’s exactly what Chatman wants from her 6’7 rookie.
Mitchell said the rookies have skills that complement the team perfectly.
“I love playing with those guys,” Mitchell said. “They’re really good players and they’re great people.”
Update on Shenise Johnson injury
Veteran guard Shenise Johnson suffered a mild knee sprain during Friday’s practice and was not available to play on Saturday. Chatman said Johnson hurt her left knee when she slipped near the end of Friday’s practice. Johnson finished practice, then noticed some swelling. The team will evaluate her over the next 48 hours.
Chatman said, “It wasn’t anything catastrophic…but there was some swelling. So we want to make sure that we’re cautious and see how she’s going to react over the next couple of days.”
Johnson tore the ACL in her left knee in July 2017. She missed the rest of the 2017 season and all of 2018 while rehabbing her knee.
Indiana’s next game isn’t until May 7 vs Dallas.
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