Five lessons the Fever learned in close loss to Seattle

Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell attacks the basket during Indiana's 84-82 loss to the Seattle Storm on June 11, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Geswein
Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell attacks the basket during Indiana's 84-82 loss to the Seattle Storm on June 11, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Geswein /

After the game, the Fever were focused on their missed opportunities instead of a questionable foul call

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Fever have gotten off to a much better start this season, but they are still a young team who is learning how to win.

They learned several valuable lessons during their 84-82 loss to Seattle on Tuesday night in Indianapolis.

Lesson 1:  Attacking the basket is important at the end of a game

Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell led her team in scoring and assists for the second straight game.  She was a big reason why the Fever came back from an 11-point third-quarter deficit.  With her team down one with 12 seconds left, Mitchell got a good look at a three and missed.  Mitchell appreciated the advice she got from veteran teammate Candice Dupree a few moments later that will help her when she’s in that situation again.

“(Candice) is the GOAT, she’s our OG,” Mitchell said following the game. “She even told me after I shot the three towards the end of the game, she said, ‘Next time, drive.  It wasn’t a bad shot, but you’re going to be ok.’  Stuff like that reiterates who she is.  She’s a great person and a great player.”

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The Fever won their season-opener at New York on a buzzer-beater by rookie Teaira McCowan.  On that play, Erica Wheeler got the ball to Dupree, who drove the lane and found McCowan under the basket for a layup as time expired.

Lesson #2:  Don’t give the refs a chance to decide the game

The Storm took the lead when Natalie Achonwa was called for a blocking foul on Jewell Loyd with 23.6 seconds left.  The officials ruled that Achonwa was in the restricted area and upheld that decision after a replay review.  Loyd then made both foul shots to put the Storm ahead 83-82.

Achonwa and her teammates were not a fan of the call.

A WNBA legend agreed with Achonwa.

The call got a lot of the attention, but the Fever realized there were several plays earlier in the game that were just as crucial.  Indiana committed five turnovers in the third quarter, which was a big reason why Seattle was able to build an 11-point lead.

“We can’t let it get to a point where it comes down to officials deciding the game,” Dupree said.  “There’s stuff that we need to clean up defensively.  That would have kept us from being in a position like that, but at the same time, you’ve got to find a way to play through it and execute down the stretch.”

Fever coach Pokey Chatman said her team made some mistakes early that put them in a deficit for most of the game.

“You’ve got to stay true to the scouting report,” Chatman said.  “You can’t gamble.  That’s why casinos are in business.  It’s fool’s gold.  (Our players) have to make them take contested threes … we were gambling a little bit, getting out of position, and when the help would come, we were out of position to rebound.”

After Mitchell’s miss with 12 seconds left, Loyd made 1 of 2 free throws with nine seconds left to put Seattle ahead 84-82.  The Fever went to Dupree on their final possession, but she was well-defended by Crystal Langhorne, which caused Dupree’s jumper to hit the front of the rim a few seconds before time expired.

The Storm grabbed the rebound and ran out the clock.

“At the end of the day, I think we have enough in this locker room to get that win,” guard Tiffany Mitchell said.  “It’s just certain parts of the game we had lulls, difficulty scoring, and just letting them get too many easy baskets.  But at the end of the day, I’m still choosing us over them.”

Lesson #3 — Dupree shows how to bounce back from a terrible game

Dupree and her teammates played a terrible first half two days earlier against Phoenix.  They fell behind by 25 points at halftime.  Dupree was held without a basket against Phoenix and finished with just two points and three rebounds.

Against Seattle, Dupree finished with 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.  That’s the most rebounds she’s had in a game for Indiana since she joined the Fever in 2017.

“We got our asses kicked against Phoenix, so we didn’t want to repeat that,” Dupree said.  “We knew we are a much better team than we showed against them.  So we got off to a decent start, but came out to (the) third quarter — way too many turnovers and kind of put ourselves in a hole.  So we’ve got to be able to correct that.”

Lesson # 4 — Kelsey Mitchell is becoming a leader

The Fever trailed 65-56 with 4.4 seconds left in the third quarter.  The team needed some sort of spark after a quarter that included five turnovers and some defensive miscues.  Kelsey Mitchell provided that spark with this 31-foot buzzer beater.

“That was definitely a momentum booster,” Tiffany Mitchell said.  “You could tell we needed that.  We needed some type of energy, some type of juice.  Her hitting that at the buzzer was definitely good momentum going into the 4th (quarter).”

Kelsey Mitchell also led the Fever with a career-high seven assists.  Chatman said that shows leadership and maturity from the second overall pick in the 2018 draft.

“She scored a million points at Ohio State and she can score another million too,” Chatman said.  “She’s becoming a student of the game and she’s recognizing things.  Some of those assists are pass-aheads.  Some of them are bouncing out, beating the trap with a pass and not a dribble.  So I think she’s just growing up and she’s going to continue to do that because she’s really hard on herself.”

Lesson #5:  Chatman is also confident in Tiffany Mitchell and Kennedy Burke

For the second straight game, Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell, and rookie Kennedy Burke played the entire fourth quarter.  Tiffany Mitchell finished with 12 points and three assists.  She defended Loyd for much of the final quarter.  Chatman loves Tiffany’s aggressive style of play, especially in the final quarter of a close game.  Tiffany is not shy about driving the basket and absorbing contact on offense.  She’s also willing to defend the opponent’s best perimeter player.

Meanwhile, Burke had another solid performance with 14 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals in 26 minutes.  She hit a huge three with 1:46 left that brought the Fever within 81-79.  She also had an offensive rebound and putback earlier in the quarter that kept the Fever’s momentum going.

It’s becoming clear that Chatman got a steal by signing Burke after the Wings waived her on May 22.

“She’s big enough that if the shot clock is going down, she can dribble, pull up, and shoot over someone.  So she’s becoming a valuable piece for us,” Chatman said.

After going 2-2 on this homestand, the Fever hit the road for a game in Dallas on Thursday.  The Fever defeated Dallas 79-64 at home on Friday in a game where the Fever were in control most of the contest.  If the Fever are hoping to make a big jump from last year’s disastrous 6-28 record, Thursday’s game against a struggling Dallas team is exactly the kind of game they have to win.  It will be interesting to see how the Fever respond to Tuesday’s close loss.

The Fever are now 3-3 and are 7th in the WNBA standings.  The Wings have an 0-4 record and are the only winless team remaining the WNBA

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