INDIANAPOLIS — Victoria Vivians’s third quarter heroics and new career high of 27 points weren’t enough to complete the comeback, as the Atlanta Dream defeated the Indiana Fever 87-83 Sunday evening at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
With just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Fever trailing 60-48, Vivians went off, starting with a pair of free throws. The next minute and a half saw things become increasingly physical between the two teams, as the defensive intensity ratcheted up on both sides.
Vivians seemed to feed off the increased emotions of the game, as she sank two 3-pointers and a jumper that ignited the home crowd, cutting the Atlanta lead to just four points, 62-58, the closest margin since midway through the first quarter when Atlanta led 14-10.
“She [Vivians] is kind of ice water like that… she’s stoic,” said Fever head coach Pokey Chatman. “I think that’s courage. When she continues to learn the nuances of the game, it’s going to get better. Now you see her shot faking, getting into the paint, shooting free throws, she’s going to become more complete. If she continues on the defensive end she’ll be special.”
The Dream were led by guard Brittney Sykes who had 20 points and seven assists, doing most of her damage in the first half. Guard Tiffany Hayes picked up where Sykes left off in the second half, scoring 19 points on 7-9 shooting with six rebounds off the bench for Atlanta.
Forward Angel McCoughtry contributed 15 points, center Imani McGee-Stafford scored 13, and guard Renee Montgomery rounded out Atlanta’s top scorers with 10 points and six assists in the win.
Indiana was led by Vivians whose 27 points, 21 of which came in the second half, shot an efficient 8-12 including 5-7 from beyond the arc. She also had 7 rebounds.
“Just keep shooting,” said Vivians, who responded offensively after scoring just six points in the first half. “Shooters, all scorers go through a rough patch in the game, most of the time, so the mentality is keep trying to shoot.”
Forward Candice Dupree had 17 points on 8-12 shooting while also collecting 7 rebounds of her own. Ranked eighth in the WNBA in field goal percentage entering tonight’s game, center Natalie Achonwa added 16 points on 6-10 shooting. Guard Erica Wheeler continued to be a spark off the bench for Indiana with 12 points, three assists, and two steals.
Vivians (34) and Kelsey Mitchell (46) are just the sixth rookie duo in WNBA history to have both made more than 30 3-pointers in a season. Both are within striking distance of Tamika Catchings’s rookie record of 76.
Atlanta got off to a hot start in the first quarter, hitting seven if their first nine field goals and pulling ahead with a 19-10 lead. Sykes crashed to the floor on a layup attempt, leaving her visibly shaken. She made both ensuing free throw attempts, recovering quickly en route to a 13-point first quarter.
Indiana responded quickly, as Achonwa scored six of her eight first quarter points as part of a 9-0 run midway through the quarter, cutting Atlanta’s lead to 22-21. The Dream responded with a run of their own to end the quarter, as Tiffany Hayes cut to the basket for the layup and the foul. Renee Montgomery then hit a 3-pointer to give the Dream a 30-23 lead at the end of one.
Atlanta controlled much of the second, outscoring Indiana 20-11 in the quarter. The Dream’s defense held Indiana to just 5-19 from the field and 0-7 from beyond the 3-point line.
Candice Dupree drew in the defender, then nailed the step back jumper, cutting the Atlanta lead to just five, 34-29. The Dream proceeded to outscore Indiana 16-4 from that point on, taking a 50-33 lead into halftime.
“We need to play the entire game like we played the second half,” said Dupree. “Just be more aggressive on defense… just have to have an attack mentality and get some stops.”
Atlanta held Indiana at bay for much of the third quarter, maintaining a double-digit lead as McCoughtry was able to hold Indiana to just a handful of small runs with her midrange and interior scoring.
With just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Fever trailing 60-48, Victoria Vivians went off, starting with a pair of free throws. The next minute and a half saw things become increasingly physical between the two teams, as the defensive intensity ratcheted up on both sides.
Indiana went on to win the quarter behind Vivians’ 12 points, 27-16, as they trailed just 66-60 heading into the final quarter.
Erica Wheeler found her way inside the paint for a layup, as she split Atlanta’s interior defense down the middle. Hayes then hit a difficult falling away layup across the lane, but it was met with yet another Vivians 3-point bomb.
Minutes later, Dupree hit a signature midrange jumper off an inbounds play to cut the game to just a single possession, 72-69.
The game never drew closer than three from that point on, as Montgomery was able to restore the Atlanta lead to six, as she was fouled behind the arc and made all three free throws.
Dupree canned a wide-open midrange jumper aft the teams traded baskets, as Indiana trailed 83-79 with just over a minute remaining in the contest. Hayes then hit a floater to continue her stellar second half to give Atlanta another six-point lead. Vivians hit a pair of free throws with 16 seconds remaining, to put the score at 85-81.
Indiana was forced to foul for the reminder of the game, as Atlanta was able to preserve their lead until the final buzzer blew.
The Fever outscored the Atlanta Dream 50-38 in the second half and shot 58 percent from the field after halftime, but Indiana could not overcome a 17-point halftime deficit.
“It was a tale of two halves,” says Chatman. “We gave up 50 points in the first half, 37 in the second. When you score 50 in a half, you’re not going to change much in the second half. So at halftime, we knew [Atlanta] wasn’t going to change anything. Atlanta had 26 transition points in the first half, just eight in the second half. So again, I asked our team, ‘what changed?’ We turned it up in the second half, but that’s the point I tried to make with my team – we cannot always have to change. There has to be a constant.”
The Fever are headed to Minnesota for a Tuesday night matchup with the Lynx at the Target Center.