Fever Will Struggle Until They Start Playing Complete Games
By Tyler Berry
“We have to maintain a higher level of play at both ends of the floor for longer than 32 minutes.”
This was the statement that Fever head coach Pokey Chatman relayed in her postgame press conference after an 87-81 overtime loss to the Liberty. Despite the largest comeback in team history – 20 points – a horrid 10-point second quarter was the lowlight of the game, ultimately resulting in the Fever dropping to 0-6 on the season.
Coach Chatman couldn’t have been more spot on when it comes to the struggles of this young team. It seems every game thus far, Indiana has had a multitude of successes overshadowed by 8-to-10-minute stretches that keep wins out of reach. Saturday night’s second quarter – which included a 5:30 scoreless streak to start it – was the most egregious example of this, but it’s happened on some level every night.
In an 86-77 loss to the Sun, the Fever bookended the game with strong quarters. The Sun led by just three at 24-21 after one and the Fever outscored them 26-16 in the fourth. However, a rough third that saw Indiana outscored 23-13 ended up being the nail in the coffin.
It was the same scenario against the Mystics at home -- Kelsey Mitchell’s first start. The Fever had their best scoring first quarter of the season and were tied at 28 at the horn. However, in the second and third quarters, Indiana was outscored by Washington 47-32 and a 24-18 fourth wasn’t nearly enough to erase that large deficit.
With a starting lineup that has played extremely well at times, it’s clear that Indiana has the talent to win games. Yet, the team continues to dig itself into these insurmountable holes. Why?
The easy answer is youth and inexperience, but that excuse is going to get old after a while. The players clearly know how to play and perform at the highest level. They’ve shown it, especially in that comeback against the Liberty – a game in which they weathered a 34-point onslaught from rookie Kia Nurse as well as a 19-point double-double from Tina Charles in order to push it to OT. But moral victories don’t help the chances of making the playoffs …
Right now, the main problem seems to lie with the lack of consistency and production from the bench. Once point guard Erica Wheeler was subbed off late in the first quarter against New York, the offense faltered, and that lack of momentum carried over into that abysmal second.
Let’s expand upon that quickly. With a 15-12 lead, Chatman made a triple substitution, sending in Hind Ben Abdelkader, Victoria Vivians, and Jazmon Gwathmey in order to rest Kelsey and Tiffany Mitchell, as well as Wheeler. This was with 4:05 to go in the first quarter. A quick turnover by Abdelkader along with an ill-advised perimeter shot led to the quick return of Wheeler, but the offense never found its footing again, really, until the second half. Over those final four minutes of the first, as well as the entire second, Indiana scored just 14 points.
Of course, the argument is that the bench’s youth is the issue, but again, that’s getting old. There are teams in this league – particularly the first-place Sun – that are making it work with young squads. Is it sustainable? Who knows. But, in these early goings, the youth movement is making a splash. Just look at what Nurse is doing for the LIberty.
Finding the right combinations when it comes to the Fever’s second unit is key. Truthfully, how many minutes a night can you realistically keep both Wheeler and Kelsey Mitchell on the bench at the same time? After three games with both in the starting lineup, it’s looking like not long at all, considering they are the team’s best ball handlers.
My column last week highlighted the fact that Wheeler needed to have big games from a scoring and facilitating standpoint and she did that against New York, finishing with 14 and 7 in 31 minutes. Along with Wheeler’s solid night, Kelsey tallied her career high of 26 points, two games removed of her first start where she scored 25. These two having strong performances are crucial to Indiana’s success. Without them on the floor, it won’t be easy to produce on the offensive end.
The starting lineup is exactly what it needs to be, and it’s proven that by getting off to fast starts. The problems for the Fever lie within finding the right lineup combinations when those five – the Mitchells, Candice Dupree, Natalie Achonwa, and Wheeler – are separated.
Without those rotation players gelling with the starters throughout the early stages of the game, the Fever won’t put together many complete games, and won’t see a high number in the win column.