Rosemont, IL — Blowing a double-digit lead at home less than two weeks ago against an Indiana team 0-5 on the road coming in had to leave a bitter taste with the Chicago Sky. Adding to the misery was a 34-point drumming by the Washington Mystics this past Sunday in which the Sky affirmed why they are the second most turnover-prone team in the WNBA, turning the ball over twenty-one times.
Unfortunately for the Chicago Sky, the Allstate Arena proved once again that it can be a merciless, unrelenting place. Jessica Breland’s brilliant 22-point performance proved no match for the Fever as Pokey Chatman and her team captured a gusty 82-75 victory in front of a raucous Chicago crowd.
Indiana used their pacing and speed advantage to take an early lead, gashing the Sky defense inside and knocking down 4-of-5 three-pointers in the first quarter. With starting center Stefanie Dolson out due to an illness, Breland took it upon herself to not only fill the void but put up season-high numbers.
Accounting for six of the Sky’s first eight points, she kept them afloat before Indiana would create separation late in the first period off of five Sky turnovers, their Achilles heel all year. Indiana took a 22-14 lead into the second period.
The first half turned out to be a tale of two-quarters. Trailing by as many as thirteen points early in the second period, the Sky went on a vicious 11-0 run, while holding the Fever to only 11 points on offense in the frame. The starring role in the comeback was played by none other than Breland, who toyed with the Indiana defense en route to 12 first half points.
Also responsible for the turn of events was Coach Amber Stocks’ lineup adjustments. She deftly utilized her bench, leading to balanced scoring production. Chicago also imposed their will on the offensive glass, outrebounding the Fever 12-0 in the first half. Chicago squeaked out a 34-33 lead at halftime.
To start the third, Chatman and company took Chicago’s punch and then dished it out, managing to score more points midway through the third quarter than they did during the entire second period.
“In halftime, we talked about coming out with that same energy that we started with in the first quarter. It came down to us being able to get stops, box out, and play with some energy,” said Coach Chatman.
A Briann January steal and finish led to a 45-42 Indiana lead with just under five minutes remaining in the third.
The Fever’s Candice Dupree, Erica Wheeler, and Tiffany Mitchell staved off Sky efforts to regain control by aggressively attacking the basket. Indiana concluded an intense, back and forth affair in the third period leading 55-51.
Early in the final frame, hot shooting from three-point range by Marissa Coleman and Wheeler threatened to put the game out of reach but 11-year veteran, Cappie Pondexter, showing the desire of a WNBA great, seemed to say, “I’ve had enough.” Her aggressive rim slashing and Imani Boyette’s double-double allowed the Sky to hang around, ultimately pulling within six points with under 90 seconds remaining.
Despite a valiant effort offensively, Chicago’s comeback effort was crushed by a dismal 1-of-8 mark from 3-point range, an inability to get stops, and 17 costly turnovers.
“Obviously, turnovers are detrimental to any offense. Especially when you have consecutive possessions of turnovers, that really hurts on offense,” said Chicago’s Amber Stocks. “Now, what we need to do is, like Cappie said, just be a little tighter with some of our passes…I like the way we moved the ball, shared the ball, we just need to tighten it up.”
The Sky has to take solace in the fact that they got quality minutes from their bench and stayed with Indiana despite two of their best shooters in Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot having off days offensively.
“We had a big focus on Quigley. So to be able to eliminate her offensively obviously works in our favor. We tried to take [her strengths] away,” said Indiana’s Dupree.
The story of the season for Indiana thus far seems to be incredible potential, evidenced by a win over the defending champion LA Sparks, offset by inconsistency. With today’s victory, Indiana earned themselves a much-needed shot in the arm heading into a matchup on Saturday with one of the hottest teams in the league as of late in the Connecticut Sun.
The Sky will now seek to build momentum against a struggling 0-14 San Antonio team on Friday.