It’s probably fair to say that the Indiana Fever have answered the critics who claimed they were offensively inept and incapable of keeping up with the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Finals.
With their 93-84 victory in Game 2 last night, the Fever demonstrated that such one-dimensional analyses fail to explain why they have taken ownership of home court advantage in the WNBA Finals – it’s their attention to multiple facets of the game that makes this team successful, as succinctly summarized by ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel.
"[Pat] Summitt would have given a thumbs-up to how Indiana played Thursday: with tougher defense, better rebounding, good ball movement and complete team participation," wrote ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel.
They didn’t beat the Mercury by merely outrunning them or locking them down defensively. It was a little bit of everything from just about everyone, with forward Tamika Catchings – who was a rebound away from the WNBA’s second-ever post-season triple double -- as the individual embodiment of their well-rounded attack.
While Catchings and guard Katie Douglas certainly led the way for the Fever, they also got significant contributions from their bench, which was responsible for 34.7% of their production (in comparison, the Mercury’s bench was responsible for 21.8% of their production). (Individual player contribution stats here)
However, there is one particular statistic that just jumps out about this series so far – second-chance points: in Game 1, the Mercury outscored the Fever 24-9 in second-chance points whereas in Game 2, the two teams were even at 9-9.
That’s a 15-point difference. In a series that figures to be played fairly tightly, that’s huge.
This is certainly not to say that second-chance points will determine the winner of this series, but it does say a lot about how the Fever adjusted in Game 2 – a renewed dedication to rebounding and making sure that they limited costly mistakes.
In addition to improved rebounding, while there wasn’t a major difference in turnover percentage for either team between games 1 and 2, the Mercury also scored 10 less points off turnovers while the Fever held steady at 17.
In a sense, it was exactly what coach Lin Dunn and the Fever players said prior to Game 2 – they didn’t lose Game 1 because they were unable to keep up with the Mercury’s pace but because they made uncharacteristic mistakes.
As much as the Fever’s Game 2 victory was about demonstrating beyond the shadow of a doubt that they can both run with the Mercury and win, it was as much about which of these two talented teams was able to take care of the little things. For last night, it was clearly the Fever…and it’s becoming clearer that while the team has certainly assumed a defensive identity this season, they are a far more well-rounded basketball team than that.
Beating the Fever in a 5 game series is not a matter of taking away one player because someone else will step up, whether it be Hoffman (Game 1) or January (and Davenport, Game 2). They are finding ways to adjust to their opposition and manufacture wins with a balance of offense and defense and a more versatile roster than they're given credit for.
The new question as the series shifts to Indiana is which of these talented teams can take care of the little of things within the natural flow of the game.