The 2-7 Indiana Fever have been competitive in all but two games this year and on Tuesday night were again competitive against a really good team in the Chicago Sky (4-2).
The Fever won the second quarter 27-14 to take a seven-point lead into halftime, lost the lead and came back to hold a four-point advantage with 6:43 to go in the fourth. They got a wide-open layup for WNBA third-leading scorer Kelsey Mitchell’s 15th point of the fourth and 25th of the game to cut a new deficit to three with 21 seconds to go. But they went back down five after Courtney Vandersloot free throws and failed to extend the game when Alanna Smith missed a three with seven ticks remaining.
“Little bit of a rough start. Once we recovered from that, it was a ball game,” said Fever head coach Marianne Stanley. “And I keep telling our guys we’re a lot closer than anybody else thinks. And we’re doing a lot of things well. We don’t have much of a margin for error. But, man, we’re battling and we’re competing and they have to get used to the rigors of the pro game. And we are, we are improving each and every time out.
“There were a number of bright spots. We got 42 points in the paint. We gave up 40-something, but 42 points in the paint’s a lot of points in the paint. Most nights that’s good enough to win. ... We outrebounded a team with a lot of length. I mean that’s a big lineup out there a lot of the time. And we outrebounded them. Five people in double figures. That’s a great sign.”
One glaring stat from the game was 35 free throw attempts for Chicago. Indiana was awarded about half that (18).
It’s hard to overcome that free throw disparity, but, nevertheless, the Fever know they can’t give up 95 points.
“I think it showed them being a veteran team,” Mitchell said of the Sky’s offensive success. “We had a couple mental lapses as far as personnel and knowing what to do on certain ball screens and it killed us down the stretch. Vandersloot and (Candace) Parker got together, they kind of picked us apart. We just gotta be a little bit more mindful, especially (late) in the game.”
Vandersloot and Parker did indeed pick the Fever apart, each dishing out seven assists. No one Sky player went off in the scoring column, but six players reached double figures and a seventh had nine points.
On the Indiana side, Victoria Vivians was second behind K. Mitchell with 17 points (3-of-5 from long range). It was her fourth-straight game and fifth in six with 15-plus. A key storyline for the Fever early this season has been Vivians putting her knee issues behind her.
“We as a team want her to keep (being her),” K Mitchell said. “We believe in every shot that she shoots, that it’s going in. And we believe that anything she brings the table that she’s gonna be good at it. That’s just how much belief I have in her as a friend, as a teammate.”
Vivians added seven rebounds and three assists. Also stuffing the stat sheet was Emily Engstler (11 points, 13 boards, four helpers, two blocks). It was the No. 4 pick’s first career double-double.
“I thought that Emily played really, really well,” Stanley said. “She was a beast on the boards and it just seemed like she was rebounding everything at both ends. Just a really good performance on the glass and getting extra possessions, things like that. Proud of her. That’s a lot of minutes too, she played the most minuted of anybody, 34 minutes.”
Destanni Henderson recorded the second double-digit scoring effort of her career with 13 points to go along with three assists and a game-high four steals. That was a welcome sight for Indiana as it showed the rookie can duplicate what she did when she scored 19 on May 8. However, much like on May 17 when she had nine points, Henderson was reliant on a hot night from beyond the arc (3-of-6). She was 1-of-9 from inside the arc, which isn’t what you want to see from her. She is much more dangerous when she’s scoring at all three levels.
In Danielle Robinson’s first four games this season, she outplayed Henderson by large minute margins. In each of the last two games, Henderson has played more minutes than Robinson with the disparity rising to nearly eight on Tuesday. Robinson was held to six points in the two games combined (four on Tuesday).
Queen Egbo has come close to her first career double-double a few times already and notched 10 points and eight boards on Tuesday.
The Fever won second chance points 24-10.