The best worst-ranked team in the history of sports did it again. Already eliminated from the playoffs, the Indiana Fever faced another challenge heading into the matchup against the New York Liberty in the form of travel woes.
Scheduled to land in New York on Friday, the Fever wouldn’t arrive until hours before tipoff, and their travel weariness showed in a 7-point first-quarter effort. But, as they’ve done all season, the Fever showed why they are the best-playing lowest-ranked team ever — competing like serious contenders despite resting in the 12th place in the standings all season.
Indiana overcame the sluggish start to sweep quarters two through four, including a 17-2 final period. Candice Dupree scored a game- and season-high 25 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and got away with 2 steals.
Natalie Achonwa had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Erica Wheeler and Cappie Pondexter scored 10 points apiece, and Wheeler’s 10 came with an important milestone: her 1,000th career point. Achonwa’s double-double was her fifth of the season.
For New York, it was a tale of two cities — if the Fever were the haves, the Liberty were the have-nots. Already without Shavonte Zellous (ankle) and Epiphanny Prince (knee), Kia Vaughn suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return. But injuries do not account for the Liberty starting the game with a 14-point advantage after the first quarter and scoring just 2 points in the fourth (equaling “the second fewest [points] ever in league history in a fourth quarter”).
Injuries also do not account for Tina Charles being the only player to tally double digits on the box score. Like the All-Star she is, Charles finished with a double-double: 11 points and 10 rebounds.
And the low production from everyone else? Indiana Fever Head Coach Pokey Chatman credited her team’s defense with shutting New York down in the fourth:
“A lot of times when we have missed shots ourselves, we’ve let that impact us on defense, limiting our consistency in schemes and execution,” Chatman said. “We didn’t let that happen today. Our goal always is to force people into contested two-pointers. We stayed to our principles on defense, even when things were rough on the other end.”
But Indiana stayed to their principles on everything — sense of purpose (even in a losing season), team pride and motivation to seize every play as a chance to learn and improve. The Liberty, however, stayed true to what fans have come to expect for much of the season: lack of competitiveness, now resulting in a playoff elimination.