Hot shooting by Kelsey Mitchell and Kennedy Burke fuel a fourth-quarter comeback that falls short
INDIANAPOLIS — “I think we dug a 10-foot hole and had a nine-foot ladder.”
That was the first thing Fever coach Pokey Chatman said after her team’s 94-87 loss to Phoenix on Sunday. The Fever trailed by 24 points going into the fourth quarter, but cut the lead to single digits before time ran out.
Indiana went with a lineup of Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell, Stephanie Mavunga, Kennedy Burke, and Erica McCall during the entire fourth quarter. The Fever outscored Phoenix 33-16 in the final quarter. This lineup shot a blistering 12-19 in the final 10 minutes, including 5 of 7 from behind the arc. They had the lead down to 11 with 2:49 to play, but DeWanna Bonner and Leilani Mitchell hit threes on the Mercury’s next two possessions to push the lead back to 17.
Chatman was impressed with the effort of her five players in the fourth quarter, especially since Kelsey Mitchell is the only starter.
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“I said it to the team (in the locker room after the game) that I was pleased with the effort of the second unit that doesn’t really get extended minutes together,” Chatman said. “So they had to figure some things out and force (Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello) to go back with a couple of her starters in the third (quarter), and more in the fourth (quarter) and they still maintained defensive energy.”
Kelsey Mitchell scored 22 of her team-high 26 points after halftime. Kennedy Burke, a rookie out of UCLA who was waived by Dallas on May 22, finished with 18 points. Mitchell and Burke each made two three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
McCall finished with four rebounds while Mavunga contributed four points. McCall and Mavunga were a plus-19, which is impressive considering the Fever trailed by double-digits for most of the game.
The Fever scored 59 points in the second half. According to the Fever’s media relations staff, that’s the most points scored by any team in one half this season.
The Fever outscored the Mercury 59-41 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to erase a 53-28 halftime deficit. Phoenix shot 53% in the first half while the Fever hit just 31% of their shots. The Fever were also plagued by eight first-half turnovers.
“I think we let a couple of turnovers, miscues, and missed shots bother us, and I’ve never seen that this year,” said Chatman, who also wasn’t pleased with her team’s spacing on offense in the first half.
Kennedy Burke provides a huge lift off the bench
Burke made all four of her shots and scored nine points during the second quarter while the rest of her teammates shot a combined 2-13. The Mercury outscored Indiana 31-16 in the second quarter, but it would have been much worse without Burke.
She provided a spark on the offensive and defensive end of the floor throughout the game. Burke was Indiana’s second-leading scorer with 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting. She made all four of her three-point attempts, a feat Burke said she’s never done before.
Burke has earned quality playing time since she joined the Fever. She sat out of her first game at Connecticut since that game was played just a few days after she signed. Burke played 23 minutes off the bench on Sunday, 11 minutes on Friday against Dallas, and 17 minutes on June 1 vs. New York.
“I feel pretty good about that,” Burke said about the minutes she’s earned. “When I go into the game, I just have to play with confidence. I do what I can for my teammates and my team.”
Kelsey Mitchell was on fire in the second half
Mitchell epitomized Indiana’s performance in the first and second half. Mitchell scored four points on 1-for-5 shooting in the first half. After halftime, Mitchell poured in 22 points. She made 9 of her 13 shots in the second half, including 4 of 7 from behind the arc. Her 26 points and six assists tied her career highs.
Chatman was impressed that Mitchell hit shots from a variety of locations in the second half.
“It’s easy to guard if you’re just going to stand behind the arc, but she’s really mixing it up and she’s feeling comfortable,” Chatman said. “I think that’s growth and maturity. And that, to me, when I take a look at it tonight on the video, is what I’m going to be most proud of.”
Phoenix’s ‘snakes’ bite Indiana
Before the game, Pokey Chatman predicted that Brittney Griner would take more than three shots, which is how many shots Griner attempted in her previous game at Minnesota.
Chatman was right. Griner had more than three shots halfway through the first quarter on Sunday.
Griner hit 11 of 21 shots and finished with 26 points. Bonner finished with 25 points.
“We always talk about cutting off the head of the snake, and they had two,” Chatman said. “Their heads combined for 51 (points). It’s tough.”
Rookie Teaira McCowan played 18 minutes and defended Griner during most of them. The 6’7 rookie finished with two points and five rebounds, but Chatman was pleased with McCowan’s performance against one of the all-time greats. She also said McCowan learned some valuable lessons by battling Griner.
“I remember (during Griner’s rookie year), she hated being in pick-and-rolls,” Chatman said. “So Teaira needs to understand that Griner had your frustration early on in this league and she figured it out, so I trust that (Teaira) will figure it out as well.”
McCowan knew that defending Griner was going to be a battle.
“It was definitely physical,” McCowan said. “I just tried my best to push her off her block where she’s most comfortable at … and I tried to cut off the baseline for her when she spun and tried to get to the other side of the rim.”
Shenise Johnson is still day-to-day
Johnson dressed and warmed up with her teammates, but she sat out with a left knee sprain. She suffered the injury when she slipped near the end of practice on May 31. Before the Phoenix game, Chatman said there is nothing structurally wrong with Johnson’s knee. Johnson has been participating in more on-court activities recently.
“We were excited that she’s actually on the court a little bit and just seeing how she responds to that,” Chatman said. “So she’s going to be day-to-day to see how she responds as we ratchet it up, and see how she responds the next day. So it’s been really nice seeing her getting out there and shooting a little bit more.”
Johnson tore the ACL in her left knee in July 2017. She missed the rest of the 2017 season and all of 2018. She played the first two games of this season before hurting her knee.
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