INDIANAPOLIS — A loss is a loss, but most would agree to lose by seven beats out losing by 26. That’s the situation the Indiana Fever wound up in Sunday’s 94-87 loss to the Phoenix Mercury.
The Fever starting five struggled early in the game, Phoenix’ Brittney Griner saw to that personally. Griner, the gold-medalist from Waco Texas, asserted dominance from the tip off. Indy’s Candice Dupree and Teaira McCowan had the talent and size to match up with Griner, but couldn’t contain her.
Phoenix had lost to the Lynx earlier in the week, scoring 56 points total. In Indy, the Mercury netted 53 in the first half. Phoenix All-Stars DeWanna Bonner and Griner combined for 51 points on 20-of-38 shooting, dished nine assists and grabbed 12 rebounds. Bonner, Griner and Indiana’s Kelsey Mitchell all scored at least 25 points in the game.
Poor shooting led to the Fever’s woes. In the first period, the home team only made 27.8 percent of its field goals, drastically behind Phoenix’ 55.6 percent.
“I think we let a couple of turnovers, miscues and missed shots bother us. I haven’t seen that happen to us this year. And while that was happening, Phoenix was punishing us,” Fever coach Pokey Chatman said in her media press conference. According to Chatman, her and the team had a gameplan prepared to focus on constraining Griner and Bonner, then playing their scrappy, energetic offense. “… you don’t have much time to get too excited about things, or to get pissed off. It just moves too fast, so we’re already on to Seattle on Tuesday. You know, I talk a lot about ‘cutting off the head of the snake.’ They [Griner and Bonner] got 51 on us. That hurt.”
Shooting didn’t improve for the Fever until it was too late. The second period played out much like the first, then after halftime, Chatman began changing the lineup around. Kelsey and Tiffany Mitchell combined for 25 points in the fourth quarter, desperately taking back the pace after being behind as much as 26 points in the third.
“It was good,” Kelsey said on the fourth quarter comeback. “Our first unit is always our pick-me-up, so we look to them for everything, no matter what the circumstance. I feel like the second group just came and kind of just tried to pick up where the first group usually leaves off. Take what we saw and compete for 40 minutes.”
The numbers for Indiana between the first and second halves did indicate that that the Fever are plenty capable of coming back from behind. In the first two periods, Indy had only landed 11 shots and had no players in double digits, while Phoenix had four girls with at least 10 points. While Phoenix made over 50 percent of its shots in the first half, they declined to 38.9 percent in the second half, contrasting directly with the Fever, who made almost 60 percent of its field goals and 75 percent of its shots outside the circle.
Indiana (3-2) welcomes Seattle (3-2) Tuesday. Phoenix (2-3) will stay in the Midwest to take on Chicago (2-2) Tuesday.