Takeaways: Indiana Fever lose another close game to Vegas

The Fever are now 3-7 in games decided by single digits

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Fever are much better than a year ago, which is obvious since they have already equaled their win total from 2018. But they are still a young team that has struggled to finish close games and consistently play up to their potential. Their inconsistency was on full display during a 74-71 loss to Vegas on July 10.

Need some proof?

The Fever committed eight turnovers in the first quarter on Wednesday afternoon.

They committed no turnovers for the next 25 minutes.

Then they committed three turnovers in the final five minutes.

Need some more proof?

Indiana scored 26 points in the third quarter to build a five-point lead going into the 4th. The Fever scored just 10 points in the final ten minutes.

The end result was yet another close defeat and another postgame press conference where coach Pokey Chatman and her players talked about a victory that was there for the taking if the Fever could have executed down the stretch.

“The last five minutes, you have to really lock in,” veteran guard Shenise Johnson said after the game. “We had too many mental mistakes … we have to find a way to take care of the ball. We had three turnovers in a five-minute span in the fourth quarter. And when that was happening, we didn’t have a chance to get stops as well. So that’s not a good combination, especially when the game is tight like that against a team who’s supposed to be winning the whole league this year.”

Chatman began her postgame press conference by talking about turnovers.

“People look at the stat sheet and it tells one story, but the story I told my team is 5 minutes and 34 seconds. We gave up 12 points. We turned the basketball over three times in that moment. And we didn’t step up to the occasion as the stakes rose up,” Chatman said.

Chatman spent the next 18 seconds saying that her team’s defense was solid enough to win the game. Then she resumed talking about her team’s turnovers. “We can have eight turnovers, and then zero. What changed? The mindset. The moment. And you’ve got to step up and own those moments because we’ve created them for ourselves but we’re not taking advantage of them.”

The Indiana Fever did a much better job containing A’ja Wilson than they did on June 29. Here, Erica Wheeler and Candice Dupree try to stop Wilson’s drive to the basket during their game on July 10, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Geswein

Neither team had more than a four-point lead in the fourth quarter. Rookie Teaira McCowan tied the game at 70 when she grabbed and offensive rebound and laid it in with 33 seconds left. On the next possession, A’ja Wilson scored underneath to give the Aces a 72-70 lead with 15 seconds left. Candice Dupree drew a foul on the next possession but missed the second free throw. Wilson made two more foul shots, but the Fever still had a chance to tie when they inbounded the ball with seven seconds left. However, after catching the ball in the corner near the three-point line, Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell dribbled inside the arc and shot a 16-foot jumper with 1.3 seconds left instead of a three-pointer. The shot rimmed out and the Aces celebrated their hard-fought victory to become the league’s first 10-win team.

After she finished talking about the final possession, Chatman said, “I can go to about 11 more possessions where we didn’t really own the moment, and it’s unfortunate.”

So how does Chatman guide her young team through the ups and downs? She said she works hard to teach her players in those moments during games. When players take a quality shot, she tells them about it even if they miss. If they have a quality offensive possession, she lets them know even if it ends without a made shot.

“There were some really nice looks (today),” Chatman said. “You’ve just got to suck it up and hit some of those. But I just keep reminding them of the shots we’re getting and how and why. But it’s really (helpful to teach them) in that moment. Now it’s too late to go back.”

Another helpful thing is to realize the Fever were in this game until the end, despite their fourth-quarter struggles.

“It says a lot about us, though, to keep ourselves in games when we do that (have turnovers down the stretch) and we still gave ourselves the opportunity to win.  So, it sucks, but it’s also encouraging,” said Johnson, who made 2-of-3 from behind the arc and finished with a season-high nine points. “For us, we have to do what’s working. We tend to go away from that sometimes. We kind of get in our head sometimes, but we have to continue to remember what worked while we had those 23-point quarters and 26-point quarters. It was because we kept the ball moving and we put their defense on their heels and made them guard multiple actions. So we have to remember what got us there.”

The Fever hold their own inside against Cambage and Wilson

Indiana Fever rookie Teaira McCowan contests a shot by Las Vegas Aces star Liz Cambage during their game on July 10, 2019. The Aces beat the Fever 74-71. Cambage led all players with 19 points while McCowan had a game-high 12 rebounds. Photo by Kimberly Geswein

On the flip side, the Fever showed several positive signs against the team with the WNBA’s best record. They outrebounded the Aces, who came into the game leading the league in rebounds per game. When these teams played in Vegas on June 29, a game the Aces won 102-97 in OT, the Aces outrebounded the Fever 50-32. On Wednesday, Indiana held a 38-37 edge on the glass. McCowan led all players with 12 rebounds. Betnijah Laney had nine boards.

After giving up 60 points in the paint against the Aces on June 29, the Fever allowed only 28 points in the paint on Wednesday. They held Wilson to 12 points after seeing her score a career-high 39 less than two weeks ago.

McCowan finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds for her third double-double of the season. She is averaging a double-double since June 19, which is when her minutes started increasing. According to the Fever’s media relations team, McCowan is the only player in the league who is averaging a double-double since June 19.

“It tough to keep that team under 10 (offensive rebounds) and that’s something McCowan helps us with,” said Chatman, whose team limited Vegas to seven offensive rebounds. “She’s going to give us an opportunity because she can affect so many other areas of the game, even when she doesn’t touch the basketball, because when she rolls she’s going to draw attention and other people are open.”

A 4-year-old boy sang the National Anthem

Wednesday was the Fever’s kids day game. The crowd of 9,247 got a treat before the game started when they saw Jake Schuman sing the National Anthem. Check out the video of his incredible performance!

The Fever play the second game of a four-game homestand Friday against the Los Angeles Sparks. The game begins at 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on the ESPN app or locally on Fox Sports Indiana.

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