Indianapolis, IN—Something about the Minnesota Lynx brings out the best in the Indiana Fever. Familiar foes of the past, these two teams met in both the 2012 and 2015 WNBA Finals. Yet, Indiana’s five-game losing streak and 10 losses out of their last 11 games entering the night suggested that the rivalry was dead, at least on paper.
But a can’t-miss night—in the most literal sense—from Candice Dupree and the Fever’s ability to shut down Sylvia Fowles handed them a gutsy 84-82 victory against the seemingly infallible Lynx.
Indiana got off to a hot start thanks to their ability to create turnovers, hit shots in transition, and perhaps most crucial of all, get Sylvia Fowles into early foul trouble. After the Fever took an early 10-4 lead, the Lynx stormed back, going on a 12-2 run nearing the end of the first quarter.
With this season’s recurring theme of inconsistency wearing thin, Briann January was in no mood to repeat history. She hit a ridiculous shot off the glass that drew a foul and a deep two-pointer in the waning seconds of the quarter to help her team end the first frame tied 19-19 with the league’s best team.
“Insatiable” was a word Coach Chatman used in the pre-game to describe herself as a coach, and her squad started the second quarter that way. Opening the second stanza with back-to-back defensive stops, the Fever efficiently turned defense into points.
The story of the first half proved to be both 11 costly Minnesota turnovers and Indiana’s ability to limit Fowles. Confined to the bench for the majority of the second quarter with three fouls, she was held to only two points of offense in the entire first half.
The other deciding factor for Indiana tonight was Candice Dupree’s brilliant play from midrange and around the rim. Dupree’s 11 first half points helped the Fever stay nearly stride-for-stride with the Lynx in a half featuring nine ties and seven lead changes. Minnesota held a slight 38-35 advantage at halftime.
If the Lynx expected the Fever to come out in the second half just happy to be within striking distance, they had another thing coming. After forcing four Lynx turnovers within the first three minutes of the third quarter and Dupree’s finish in transition, Indiana reclaimed the lead.
From there, it would be a ferocious back and forth affair starring several momentum swings. Minnesota’s 58-54 lead through three quarters set up a compelling final stanza.
After watching their team succumb to fourth quarter collapse frequently this year, an Indiana home crowd that hadn’t witnessed a win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse since June 15 were brought to their feet after a 10-0 Fever run midway through the fourth quarter.
The drama reached a tipping point when Indiana’s 77-73 lead at the two minute mark evaporated thanks to consecutive Minnesota steals. While Fever fans stood in horror at the notion of yet another heartbreaking finish, Dupree’s steely glare in the huddle made it evident that Indiana’s spirit was far from broken.
I thought Candice [Dupree] was a calming presence, on top of the points she scored,” said Coach Pokey Chatman. “She is such a veteran, such a presence. She has such confidence and goes a long way in keeping her teammates involved.”
The final two minutes elicited roars as a seemingly impossible left-handed hook shot from Dupree was met with a cold-blooded three-pointer from Seimone Augustus with 0:24 remaining to give the Lynx an 82-81 edge. Coach Chatman could only manage a wry smile as if to tell her former prodigy at LSU, “too good.”
After the Fever’s Marissa Coleman had her three-pointer deflected, Erlana Larkins came up with the go-ahead put back to secure the narrow victory for Indiana.
Dupree’s 31 points, off of 15-of-21 shooting, and nine rebounds allowed the Fever to stay with the WNBA’s best team. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the awe-inspiring offensive clinic Dupree put on tonight, even she conceded that sustained defensive intensity was the ultimate difference maker.
“I was proud of the way we held our composure,” said Dupree. “We actually played defense for an entire 40 minutes, regardless of what was going on, on the offensive end...Overall I think we just played really well and really hard for 40 minutes.”
Indiana’s defense forced 19 Minnesota turnovers, and they kept Fowles out of the equation by frustrating her with foul trouble and admirably matching her physicality in the paint. The MVP front-runner finished with only six points of offense.
“It was everything that we expected, said Lynx guard Augustus. “We expected Indiana to come out and play really tough. It’s a great defensive team. They really didn’t have anything to lose. So we knew that they were going to come out and give everything they have.”