The Indiana Fever (3-10) were within eight points of the Atlanta Dream (7-4) the entire first half Sunday at Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Ga. They even had it cut to one for 59 seconds late in the second (from 2:05 to 1:06).
But then came the third quarter. Indiana’s defense was solid in the first two frames, allowing 17 and 12 points, respectively. But it allowed 32 points in the third and lost the frame by 14.
Though the Fever had the ball with 50 seconds left down just six, the the third is what truly lost them the 75-66 decision.
“That's something that we’ll talk about, me and my staff, a little better: starts for the third quarter, so that we can come out with a better just sense of focus,” said Fever head coach Carlos Knox. “I think sometimes it’s just one of those situations that people come out and they’re kind of lax and not as focused as they should be. But we’re gonna make sure that that doesn’t happen anymore.”
“Teams punch you in the mouth (to start third quarters),” said Kelsey Mitchell, who scored a game-high 20 points in defeat and is third the league with 19.5 per game. “And we always have unsuccessful third quarters for the most part. So for us, it’s about making sure we not being soft, making sure our mentality is a strong one and that our team is united to make sure we don’t have third quarters this bad.”
A number of things went wrong for the Fever in this game. They shot 34.8 percent from the field and 60.9 percent at the free throw line. (They made only one more free throw than Atlanta while attempting eight more). One bright spot was that they turned the Dream over 24 times, but they had 21 turnovers themselves.
After the game, Knox was asked about juggling being the fast-paced team they want to be and not turning the ball over.
“I think we definitely are talking to our team about playing faster and getting up and moving the ball, pushing the ball, because we have those type of players,” he said. “But I think you have to make sure you are efficient in the open court when that happens. Because you don’t want to give other teams the opportunity to score off of your mistakes. And I think we did a semi-poor job of that tonight. But when things are rolling and we’re doing good in transition and we’re making the right plays, then it's a lot different. But tonight it was unfortunate.”
The Fever had a better winning percentage than the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx entering Sunday, but, with both those teams winning, they are now alone in last place. Their current three-game losing streak is an unfortunate turn of events for a team that was in ninth place and just one game out of the eighth and final playoff spot on May 30.
After Sunday’s game, K. Mitchell’s demeanor was noticeably different than it had been at any other press conference this season.
“We gon’ be the last team on the board again or we can buy in,” she said. “And that’s just where we at.
“For us it’s all about mentality right now. We’re real loose, we’re real casual, we’re lackadaisical and we soft. And that has nothing to do with any ability on the court, anything you can practice.”
On how to not be soft, K. Mitchell offered, “We just express to one another that you either buy in or you get out. Myself included. If I can’t give everything I’ve got to give, then don’t play. ... And it’s raw and uncut right now, but that’s what we need. There’s no more sugar-coating losing.
“I’ma be real with you, and maybe I'm not supposed to say it, but we have to stop practicing sometimes because when we start it’s like we starting the third quarter. And us as captains, us as leaders — and even our youngins are leaders, everyone is a leader — we have to hold each other accountable. And sometimes in practice we’ve been having to correct certain energy and certain effort.”
While she was clearly not happy, K. Mitchell did offer some more specific thoughts on how things could change.
“I think the big part of it is communication and being able to lean on one another by communicating. ... It’s like reiterating certain stuff so we make sure that everyone is on the same page and everyone knows it. And I think that’s (a) carryover to the court because we’ve been having some problems as far as just people knowing where we gotta be and what we gotta do, myself included ... If we can communicate and take that mentality and put it together, I think we got a good chance.”