The Fever weren’t making excuses after another close loss

The Fever came back from a 22-point deficit, but couldn’t hold on to win

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Fever were tired after their home loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night.

Sure, they were probably still feeling the effects of the brutal travel they experienced on Monday.  But that’s not the reason why they were feeling tired.

They were tired of losing another close game.

They were tired of falling behind early again.

They were tired of careless mistakes costing them vital possessions.

And they are definitely tired of talking about it.

“You get tired of saying that same song and dance,” Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell said after her team’s 78-74 defeat to Minnesota. “You get tired of coming out flat or not finishing the first half and having to play catch up.”

The Fever trailed 52-30 with 7:00 left in the third quarter. Over the next 11 minutes, they went on a 33-9 run. Mitchell hit a three at the end of that run to give the Fever their first lead since early in the game. The Lynx responded with a 10-0 run of their own, which included two three-pointers by Damiris Dantas, to go ahead 71-63 with 2:40 to play. Mitchell scored on two straight possessions to bring the Fever within three points with 1:38 left, but they couldn’t get any closer than that.

After the game, several reporters asked if the team’s sluggish first half was caused by their journey home from Seattle the day before, which included airport delays, a red-eye flight, and an 8-hour bus ride.

“The first thing we talked about before the game was, yes, yesterday was unfortunate, but that we were going to leave it at yesterday,” said forward/center Natalie Achonwa, who documented the team’s travel problems on her Twitter feed. “Minnesota didn’t care. The game doesn’t care. The refs don’t care, the ball doesn’t care. So for us, that was supposed to be our mentality … but our first was a struggle. But you see glimpses of greatness, you can see that comeback … but we shouldn’t have been down 20 in the first place.”

Coach Pokey Chatman also refused to make excuses for her team’s slow start. When asked if the team’s travel problems affected Indiana’s play, she said, “I don’t think it did. It was a pain … it’s not an excuse. They got to sleep in their beds at a decent time. We had a normal shootaround. You know, they sure looked like that in the first half, but I don’t think (Monday’s travel) had anything to do with it.”

Indiana shot 25% (9-35) in the first half and committed nine turnovers.  Meanwhile, Minnesota made 50% of its shots (17-34) and scored 11 points off Indiana’s turnovers. Odyssey Sims had 13 points in the first half and finished with 25. Sylvia Fowles had 8 of her game-high 11 rebounds in the first half.

“We’re not good enough, and this league is too good, to play 20 minutes of basketball at the level we played in the second half and not the first (half).  And I take responsibility for that,” Chatman said. “When you create comfort for teams early, it allows (Sims) to drop 25 on you. I’m not taking anything away from the other team. It’s just one of those things where you have to be consistent from the beginning.”

In the locker room at halftime, several Fever players realized they needed to step up in the second half. One of them was Achonwa.

“In moments like the first half today where I didn’t have it for our team, I always think about my first couple of years and Tamika Catchings told me, ‘You’ve got to bring it every day, it doesn’t matter.’ She used to make me walk back out of the locker room in the morning because I’m not a morning person,” Achonwa said. “Every time I’m going through something, every time I need a little bit more, I just think when Tamika told me, ‘You have to have it every day.’ So I had to check myself at halftime, because I didn’t have it. So that’s what I tried to do, provide that energy, provide that grit, give us a bit of a punch so that we could fight back.”

Indiana Fever forward Natalie Achonwa drives to the basket during the 4th quarter of a game against Minnesota on June 25, 2019. The Fever lost 78-74. Photo by Kimberly Geswein

Achonwa scored 8 of her 10 points after halftime. She tied for the team lead with seven rebounds. She absorbed a flagrant foul on a fast-break layup attempt with 4:12 left in the third quarter. Achonwa shook off the blow to her head and played the rest of the game. Entering the game, she was listed as questionable with a left calf strain.

Tiffany Mitchell, Betnijah Laney, and Teaira McCowan provided a spark on defense. They had several steals and deflections that led to transition baskets during the Fever’s big run. Chatman said her team had 25 deflections in the second half, which was impressive since they want to have 28 in a game.

Offensively, Erica Wheeler sparked the comeback with 11 points in the third quarter. She made all four of her shots, including two three-pointers, and dished out three assists in the third quarter. Kelsey Mitchell kept things going in the fourth quarter with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting. She finished with a team-high 17 points.

Chatman talked about the emotions she experienced from watching her young team play a terrible first half and an amazing second half.

“They’re good. Maybe they don’t believe me. If they were not (good), I’d go have a glass of wine and chill,” Chatman said. “I know they’re capable. It’s not about five all-stars. I think everybody that has that Fever on their chest … is capable of making this team really good. And to get over that hump, they have to believe that. It’s going to take 40 minutes, it’s going to take all 12 of us, plus our coaching staff to keep reminding them and putting them in position where they truly understand it.”

No rest for the weary

The Fever will leave on Thursday for another west coast trip. They play at Phoenix on Friday and at Vegas on Saturday.

Indiana is currently 3-5 in single-digit games. They were 3-12 in single-digit games in 2018. The Fever could probably benefit from some practice time, which they haven’t had for a while as they close out one of their busiest stretches of the season. However, the players are eager to get back on the court, take what they’ve learned from these close losses, and use it to help them win a close game.

“We have to come out with the same energy from the beginning, just with the same intensity that we came out in with in the second half, that has to be from the beginning so that we don’t see ourselves in those positions to have to fight back,” Betnijah Laney said after the Minnesota game.

“We know what we’ve got to do,” Kelsey Mitchell said. “I just hope we take these losses and treat them as learning experiences.”

The Fever’s comeback was historic, even though it fell short

According to the Fever’s media relations staff, the 22-point deficit was the largest overturned deficit in franchise history.

Also, according to their media relations staff, Indiana’s 51 second-half points is the second most points scored in one half by a WNBA team all year. Indiana also has the most points scored in a half this season when they tallied 59 points in the second half against Phoenix on June 9.

Tiffany Mitchell passes 1,000 career points

Indiana Fever guard Tiffany Mitchell passed 1,000 career points during a game against Minnesota on June 25, 2019. In addition to scoring, Mitchell contributes intensity on defense and rebounding as well. Photo by Kimberly Geswein

Her fast-break layup with 2:05 left in the first quarter put Mitchell over the 1,000-point mark for her career. After the game, she gave the credit to her teammates for the success she’s had during her four seasons in Indiana.

“I’m just around a good group of girls that put me in positions to be successful. They know what I do well, I know what they do well, so I kind of just feed off that,” Tiffany Mitchell said. “So being able to accomplish this is definitely something I’m going to look back on and smile when I’m older with the kids and telling them that I scored my thousand points.”

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