Indianapolis — The New York Liberty escaped the Indiana Fever 85-84 in a tight finish at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday night. A fourth quarter in which neither team led by more than three points resulted in another missed opportunity for the Fever.
Down three in the final seconds, Indiana took an open layup with three seconds left but failed to foul on the ensuing inbounds as New York ran out the clock.
“Yet again, we give ourselves an opportunity to win a basketball game,” Fever head coach Pokey Chatman said. “But we had poor execution down the stretch and on the final play. That’s the one everyone remembers, but we had a 15-point lead that evaporated.”
The Fever drop their third straight game and fall to 8-15 on the year and 1-8 in July while New York improves to 11-10.
Indiana was led by Natalie Achonwa with a career-high 19 points and seven rebounds. Tiffany Mitchell and Candice Dupree added 14 apiece for Indiana while the starting backcourt of Briann January and Erica Wheeler combined for 12 points and 13 assists.
New York’s Tina Charles poured in a game-high 25 points; her seventh outing of 20-or-more points in her last eight games.
Bria Hartley added 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting for the Liberty while Kia Stokes garnered a game-high 10 rebounds. Shavonte Zellous added 11 points, six rebounds and five assists in the contest.
The Liberty jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the opening minutes and maintained a similar cushion through the first quarter. Indiana didn’t take their first lead until a 3-pointer from Mitchell in the late stages of the second, but the trifecta sparked 12 Fever points in the half’s final two minutes en route to a 49-43 halftime lead.
January opened the second half with a three on a kick-out from Wheeler and the Fever were off and running. Indiana scored the second half’s first eight points in just 58 seconds — 11 points in a minute and 30 seconds — and garnered a 15-point lead, 60-45.
Going back to the first half, Indiana had packaged a 26-6 run in less than five minutes of game action.
But it didn’t take long for New York to regain its composure. The Liberty chipped away through the third quarter and entered the final stanza trailing by just three, 70-67, after closing the quarter on a 22-10 run.
Numerous scoring exchanges in the fourth resulted in a tight finish. Neither team led by more than three points in the period. Indiana grabbed an 82-80 edge with 1:37 to play thanks to an Achonwa lay-in, but a three from Bria Hartley on the ensuing possession gave New York an 83-82 lead.
After missed jumpers from Dupree, an Indiana foul and free throws gave New York a three-point advantage (85-82) before the final Fever possession that resulted in two points but an expired clock.
“It’s frustrating to have two games back-to-back where we could have won and should have won,” Achonwa said. “We had 15-point leads and couldn’t maintain it because we don’t play defense. It’s going to be frustrating until we get a win, until we can play 40 minutes of basketball.”
After shooting 54.2 percent through three quarters, Indiana went just 6-for-18 (33.3 percent) in the fourth. Dupree carried Indiana at times while shooting 7-for-11 through three quarters and change, but missed her final seven attempts from the field.
Indiana was outrebounded by New York 37-21, but committed just 10 turnovers to the Liberty’s 15.
“If we continue to stay focused and stay the course, I think we have the ability to string together a couple wins to put us back in playoff contention,” January said. “We have to stay mission-focused and continue to get better.”