Just Not The Fever’s Night
By Wheat Hotchkiss
The Indiana Fever battled in Thursday night’s 84-79 Game 1 loss. The Atlanta Dream were clicking in all facets of the game, but the Fever hung tough on the road. Despite some defensive lapses and ball-handling bungles, Indiana had multiple chances to tie the game in the final minute.
The effort was there. The execution was just off.
“I thought they played what I would call their ‘A’ game,” said Fever head coach Lin Dunn. “And if I graded us, I would give us a ‘B/B+.’”
As a result, the Fever head back home for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on the brink of elimination. If they want to live to see another day, Dunn and her team must correct the course on both ends of the ball.
Though they managed 79 points on 48 percent shooting, this was not the same confident, attacking Fever offense that dominated Chicago in the conference semifinals.
While Dunn continually urged her players to push the ball from the sideline, too often a player hesitated or pulled up on the offensive end. Multiple possessions ended in contested heaves before the shot clock.
Shavonte Zellous – in many ways the catalyst to Indiana’s aggressive offensive attack –battled foul trouble and never found a rhythm until the fourth quarter. Point guard Briann January wasn’t much of a factor all night on the offensive end, finishing with just four points and two assists in nearly 34 minutes.
And there were too many unforced errors, 17 of them leading to 23 points on the other end.
“I think we knew coming in here that if we turn the ball over, they’re a good transition offensive team,” forward Karima Christmas said. “We have to take care of the ball.”
But there was more to the defensive woes than just coughing the ball up to the other team. Indiana struggled to contain the Dream’s dribble penetration. Dunn was particularly exasperated that her team let Tiffany Hayes, a left-handed guard, continually get to the basket with her strong hand.
“One of the things we didn’t do well tonight was defend the dribble penetration,” Dunn said. “They put their heads down – Hayes, Armintie (Herrington), Angel (McCoughtry) – they just drove us right at us.”
Despite the breakdowns on both ends, there are positives to take from Thursday’s effort.
Erlana Larkins continued her strong play in the post, contributing her third straight double-double and limiting All-Star Erika de Souza to 10 points. That Larkins is putting together these types of performances is all the more impressive given she’s really the only true post player left on the Fever’s roster.
The defense on McCoughtry – perhaps the world’s best scorer – was a pretty solid team effort (spearheaded by the consistent Christmas).
On the offensive end, Tamika Catchings continued to produce and Zellous’ late surge might give her some momentum heading in to Game 2.
Credit also Atlanta head coach Fred Williams for pulling the right strings. Williams decided to go small, inserting Herrington into the starting lineup for the first time this season. Herrington scored 13 points in the first half, and the Dream speedy, smaller lineup posed problems all night for Indiana’s defense without giving up too much on the other end.
But the Fever remain confident. Dunn and her team were down 1-0 twice last year in best-of-three series, once even against the Dream. They responded both times, and Dunn thinks they’re in position to do so once again.
For her, the difference tonight was a slim and correctible margin.
“We know we can hit a few more shots, and defend a little bit better, and not turn the ball over,” Dunn said. “14 turnovers, 13 turnovers, and we’re in much better shape.”
The players know what’s at stake. Catchings promised they’ll “be better on Sunday.” What’s the team’s mentality heading into that win-or-go-home showdown?
“We’re down,” Christmas said. “We’ve got to punch first and punch often.”