Fever Finally Earn Victory No. 1
By Tyler Berry
It finally happened. On Saturday night, after 10 losses to open the season, the young Fever squad got its first win in spectacular fashion. In front of its home crowd, the Fever demolished the Dream, 96-64. Almost everything went right for Indiana and this game gave us a glimpse of the potential future of the franchise.
During the game, Fever PR tweeted out an interesting statistic: Going into that game, WNBA rookie tandems had combined for 7-plus three pointers just six times since 2009. Well, three of those were courtesy of Indiana in 2018. Saturday, it was five from Victoria Vivians, three from Kelsey Mitchell and one from Hind Ben Abdelkader that helped secure a brilliant lead for the Fever.
In just her third start, Vivians was an absolute force on both ends of the court. She went 5-for-8 from behind the arc and 8-for-14 from the field. In 31 minutes, the rookie, from Mississippi State, showed exactly why coach Pokey Chatman inserted her into the starting five last week. Shooting aside, she has proved herself on the defensive end, especially against Atlanta when she performed admirably against Angel McCoughtry.
Mitchell was no slouch, either. In 31 minutes, Kelsey scored 19 points on 44 percent shooting and added five assists. Her game seems to improve every game, as she’s clearly adapting to time both at the point and off-ball. Her ability to dribble into perimeter shots as well as get to the basket make her such a threat, despite her being just 11 games into her professional career.
With Mitchell and Vivians playing at such a high level so early, it’s clear that the future is bright as long as these two stay healthy and continue to grow as athletes.
All 11 active Fever players scored against Atlanta. The team got 35 combined points from its bench, which was a huge reason why it won in such blowout fashion. Bench scoring was extremely important for Indiana and, going forward, it’ll be crucial for putting more Ws in the wins column. It comes of little surprise that, when the bench struggles, the team struggles.
Look back just two days prior to the win, a 72-67 loss to the Dream in Atlanta. Neither team shot the ball well and Indiana was right in it until the end. Had the bench contributed more than just 12 combined points – including a 2-for-10 performance from Erica Wheeler – the Fever likely would have walked away victorious.
The 35 bench points on Saturday was the team’s most since rookie Kelsey Mitchell entered the starting lineup. Now that the rotations have seemingly been established, with Vivians as a starter and Wheeler running the second unit, the bench should have more positive contributions the rest of the season.
Indiana held the Dream to just 64 points, nearly 10 less than its scoring average for the season. The Fever forced 18 Atlanta turnovers, including nine from its starters, and simply never let the team get in a rhythm, especially once the second half began. Thanks to solid Indiana defense, Atlanta shot just 37 percent from the field and were outscored 61-26 in that second half. (This 35-point margin tied the second largest second-half margin in WNBA history.)
Indiana has worked well on defense in recent games and Thursday’s loss in Atlanta saw some good returns on that side of the ball. This season, the Fever give up an average of 83.5 points to opponents but gave up just 72 in the loss and 64 in Saturday’s win. The rookies, especially Stephanie Mavunga and Vivians, are starting to cause problems for opposing players. Mavunga was a formidable inside presence, grabbing two blocks and a steal in her 12 minutes. Vivians was a key defender as well, spending most of her time on McCoughtry who, despite recording 19 points, had just four made field goals in the second half.
The Fever are growing as a team on the defensive end and, if it can continue to hold teams 10 points under their scoring average, more wins will come.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all positives on Saturday. After a tough ankle injury to Tiffany Hayes in the third quarter that required her to be carried off the floor, Mavunga suffered a similar injury under the basket and also had to be carried off. There’s been no news or return timetable for either player, but the Fever hope Mavunga can get back on the court soon, as she is quickly becoming a vital role player.
On Sunday morning, Fever PR announced that the team had released third-year guard Jazmon Gwathmey and signed small forward Asia Taylor. This news didn’t exactly come as a surprise considering that Gwathmey was never able to find a rhythm on the court. She averaged just 2.4 points per game and shot less than 25 percent from the field. Despite never completely falling out of the rotation, she saw just 10 combined minutes in her final three games in an Indiana uniform.
Taylor heads back to Indiana after being a part of the team’s 2016 training camp roster. She has spent parts of her three professional seasons in Minnesota, Connecticut and Washington after being drafted 36th overall by the Lynx in 2014. She was part of Washington’s 2017 playoff run before being waived by the Mystics during this year’s training camp. She will join the Fever’s road trip beginning on Monday.