At halftime, the Indiana Fever looked poised to pick up their third loss of the 2017 season.
Not only were they down 55-41 to the Los Angeles Sparks, they allowed the Sparks to close out the half by going on a 13-0 run.
It was clear that momentum was behind Los Angeles due to missed defensive rotations by the Fever, and the efficient play of Essence Carson, Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker.
But while it looked like the Fever had no chance to most fans watching, it certainly didn’t look that way to those inside the Fever locker room.
“It was all us. It was our defense and our turnovers. So we knew it was all correctable things,” Marissa Coleman said.
That’s why they had perhaps the comeback of the season so far in the third quarter, outscoring Los Angeles 27-10 after halftime.
It’s also why they ended up with their second win of the season after topping the Sparks 93-90, instead of their third loss.
The third quarter was by far the most crucial period in the game.
Indiana came out and hit two threes immediately from Coleman and Briann January. Shenise Johnson and Candice Dupree would follow that up with layups of their own to create a 10-0 run for Indiana.
Dupree played the largest role in their third quarter push, doubling her point total to 16, including a buzzer-beating jumper to end the quarter that put the Fever up three, 68-65.
“We stayed in it long enough that we were able to get a little momentum in the third quarter. Once we got the lead, we didn’t let go,” Fever head coach Pokey Chatman
“[The Sparks] have a great team. They’re a great scoring team and a great rebounding team. But for us to outrebound them and get out and run, we thought was going to give us a chance.”
By the end of the third, the Fever were leading in rebounding, (an area they have struggled in so far this season) assists, steals, and they had forced more turnovers.
“I really think it’s just the third quarter, honestly,” Parker said.
“In the fourth quarter we played them evenly, I believe. We’ll learn from it, obviously. What can you do?”
While Dupree’s play was the most influential in Indiana’s third quarter run, Coleman’s play was perhaps the most inspired. Coleman had yet to score in double digits this season entering tonight, which makes her performance all the more impressive.
By the end of the third, Coleman already had 13 points, seemingly catapulting herself out of her shooting slump.
As the Fever held on to a one-point lead, Chatman would call a timeout with 56.1 seconds left. Coleman’s most important points, however, would come with 38 seconds to go in the game.
After running time off the clock, January found an opening in the Los Angeles defense and drove down the middle of the lane. As the Sparks defense collapsed, January turned to see Coleman waiting at the top of the three-point arc.
In that moment, it didn’t matter that Coleman had been in an offensive slump until game four. January trusted her, and with good reason.
Coleman nailed the shot, and gave Indiana a 92-88 lead, making it a two-possession game with just under 40 seconds left.
Parker would score another layup for the Sparks, but they would still be forced to foul Erlana Larkins, who put the game out of reach with one free throw.
Coleman finished the evening with a team-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including going 5-of-6 from deep.
Given her performance tonight, it is safe to call this Coleman’s breakout game. And if she is just getting going, that only means good things for Indiana. After the win, however, Coleman was more focused on how the Fever can use this win throughout the season.
“We just gotta build on it. We can’t get too excited about this. It’s a great win for us, but it has to be a momentum builder,” Coleman said.
“We have to look at the things that we did wrong and still correct those, and also go back and see what areas we were successful in and continue to get better in those areas and build from that.”