The Indiana Fever were again competitive in their second game of this WNBA season Sunday afternoon at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. They were tied with the Los Angeles Sparks at 64 with 7:07 to play before falling 87-77.
The big takeaway from the game for Indiana was the play of draft steal Destanni Henderson. She was at one point in the conversation to be taken as high as fourth after seemingly everyone’s top three of Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin and ended up as the No. 7 projection in our Eric Nemchock’s mock draft. But she fell all the way to No. 20 on draft night. On Sunday, she showed off the same skills that made her a phenomenal college player and the game seemed to come easy to her on her way to 19 points, three assists and two steals (3-of-4 from distance).
“I felt like I shot the ball a little bit more and was able to take advantage of certain things on the floor and I felt good seeing the ball go into the basket and being able to push in transition and finding my teammates,” Henderson said. “But just to critique myself, too many turnovers I felt like that hurt us a lot in the game. Just to trim that down a little bit more just to give us extra possessions to get us some great shots.”
Henderson had just four points in the Fever’s opener, but five assists. Her high scoring output on Sunday was a welcome sight for an Indiana team whose second-leading scorer last year (Tiffany Mitchell) averaged a league-low 12 points per game. So although leading scorer Kelsey Mitchell’s 17.8 points per game was seventh among leading scorers and eighth overall in the league, Indiana lacked the scoring depth to back her up and finished second-to-last in scoring offense as a team.
No. 2 draft pick NaLyssa Smith, who has a lot of pressure on her to make a big impact on the scoring column, had another solid performance, scoring 13 points for the second game in a row. Alanna Smith and Emily Engstler added 10 and nine points, respectively. K. Mitchell was second behind Henderson with 15 points, but shot the lowest field goal percentage (30 percent) of any Fever player who made at least one field goal. She missed some open shots she usually makes and was 2-of-8 from three. If she hadn’t had such a cold shooting performance, the Fever might have won the game.
It seems to just be Indiana’s luck that when they get scoring from elsewhere, their star comes up just a little short. Fifteen points is solid, but a signature Kelsey Mitchell performance could have changed the outcome. But there is reason to be optimistic moving forward because Henderson has all the tools to be a good scorer and it is truly puzzling why she fell in the draft. After the game, head coach Marianne Stanley was happy that the team’s offense “showed some depth.”
Stanley was however disappointed that her team gave up 58 points in the paint and negated the 21 turnovers it forced by turning the ball over 19 times itself. Nevertheless, the Fever have given two potential playoff teams in the Washington Mystics and Sparks runs for their money. The Sparks in particular were coming off a win over the defending champs.