The Indiana Fever fought back from the 13-2 Phoenix Mercury run that opened Wednesday night’s game at the Footprint Center and battled throughout the second quarter. However, that second frame ended with an 11-2 Mercury run that put Phoenix up six at the break and the Mercury eventually ran away with a 99-78 victory that dropped the Fever to 5-16.
The Fever had to have seen two-straight games against a below .500 and now Tina Charles-less Phoenix team as a good opportunity to turn a 2-2 stretch into a 4-2 stretch, but good first quarters in both games were erased by late collapses. On Monday, the collapse came in the final 4:39 and resulted in a 12-point loss; on Wednesday it came sooner, as Indiana trailed by double digits for the final 13:22 and lost by 21.
The point at which the Fever cut it to five on Monday (the 4:39 mark of the fourth) was around the time (4:30) that Diana Taurasi hit a three from the right corner to make it a 14-point Mercury lead on Wednesday. It was the same right-corner three that Taurasi had made on Monday to increase the lead to 14 with 2:16 remaining. Phoenix was just finishing the Fever off a little bit quicker in the second of back-to-back meetings and it was just a little bit more painful.
In both games, the Fever scored their least amount of points in the fourth: 13 on Monday and 15 on Wednesday.
“I think we had too many empty possessions,” Kelsey Mitchell said of the late offensive struggles on Wednesday. “It was a lot of times where we got to the point where they did miss a shot and when they did, we didn’t convert. It made our offense down the stretch of the game really, really difficult. Our transition was bad, everything was choppy and because it was choppy it was hard to like stay in rhythm and I think that’s what really got us.”
Indiana lost points in the paint 58-32 as Mercury post players Reshanda Gray and Brianna Turner went 5-of-5 and 5-of-6 from the field, respectively. After catching Diana Taurasi on a great day for her on Monday, the Fever caught Turner on a bounce-back night in the scoring column for her. Turner finished with a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds after taking just nine shots from the field and scoring just nine points over her previous four outings combined.
K. Mitchell was again the key bright spot for the Fever with a game-high 21 points and a team-high five assists in her first appearance since the announcement of the All-Star reserves came out without including her.
“I was pretty emotional,” Mitchell said of missing out on the All-Star Game despite a great statistical start to the season. “I don’t have any ill-will towards the league itself, the players that were chosen. You know, obviously good luck to them and congratulations.
“I think for me it’s like for so long people always tell you to try to better in order to be named (an All-Star) and how to be a part of the conversation. And just when you think you’re making strides, something else kinda like brings you down. It’s unfortunate. I leaned on family a lot these last 24 hours. I think for me it’s just been kinda like understanding that it’s a journey. And hopefully down the stretch or line, I’ll be one. But I think, for me, what’s important is that the people that’s behind me, the people that love me, see me as of value.”
“Not even that you individually worried about yourself or focused on yourself, but, like I said, you just think about how far you’ve come and everything you tried to accomplish. You think about all the hard work and all the blood, sweat and tears you put into it.”
“I think everybody on this team knows that Kelsey deserved to be an All-Star,” said Fever rookie Emily Engstler. “So, technically, finding out is a sad day for her and the entire team. She got robbed. I understand that sometimes in college and the league, you focus on wins. But when an individual player is so consistently good, I think that, whether they’re on a team that might not be winning or not, they deserve to make a list like that.”
Mitchell may not have made an All-Star Game through five years in the WNBA, but on Wednesday she passed Briann January, who played nine years with the Fever, for third place on the franchise scoring list.
Mitchell was asked postgame if that accomplishment softened the blow of not making the All-Star Game.
“Yeah and no. The bottom line is that this league, or any league that you’re in professionally, focuses on winning. And I haven’t done much of that and that’s just the reality. Individually, it kinda like tells you how far you’ve come and where you want to go. So those accolades kinda mean a lot from that standpoint of like the whole ‘keep grinding’ ideal of it. There’s still a lot more to be done. And I think for me it’s just kind of focus on the task at hand, that’s try to win some games.”
“It makes me feel extremely proud and happy to have her,” Fever head coach Carlos Knox said of the milestone. “Because Kelsey is a non-stop worker. She’s definitely worthy of an All-Star appearance. And she won’t stop. That’s one of the things that I love about her: She does not stop. And she will continue to be better, stronger and really be prideful when it comes to different things on the basketball floor.”
As she has now reached third, it's worth taking a look at K. Mitchell’s scoring track compared to that of Indiana’s all-time leading scorer Tamika Catchings. Both started playing at age 22; through 143 games, Catchings had 2,477 points (17.3 per game) and K. Mitchell has 2,263 (15.8 per game). But Catchings started out hot with her two highest scoring averages of 18.6 and 19.7 coming in her first two seasons, respectively. K. Mitchell’s first two scoring averages of 12.7 and 13.6 could be seen as outliers since she’s averaged 17.8-plus since.
Catchings only averaged 17-plus five times in 15 seasons; K. Mitchell is on pace to do it for the third time this, her fifth, season. Catchings averaged 18-plus twice and 19-plus the one time. If things hold up this season K. Mitchell will have averaged 18-plus once and 19-plus once, again in just five seasons. If she plays the same amount of career games (which likely won’t all be with the Fever) as Catchings (457), she will need to average 16.3 points for the rest of her career to surpass the legend. 17-plus seasons could become the norm for K. Mitchell for the foreseeable future. Of course, 16.3 over 10 years is not something we should even talk about because it takes so many things going right to be that good for that long. But it’s worth pointing out that it’s within the realm of possibility.
And that’s saying a lot for a player who has never been an All-Star.