Natalie Achonwa came off the bench and scored a career-high 17 points to help lead the Fever to an 83-80 victory against the Seattle Storm.
“Achonwa was huge,” coach Pokey Chatman said. “What’s interesting for Natalie is even if she doesn’t have a great game on the stat sheet, she always manages to still make plays. She’s a cerebral player. I really enjoy Natalie in terms of her basketball IQ as a post player, so I’m really happy that she bounced back.”
Achonwa has scored in double figures off the bench five times this season, including four of the past five games.
“I really just try to come in and provide energy,” Achonwa said. “That’s my main mindset when I come in. We have so many great players, shooters, and penetrators, like E-Dub [Erica Wheeler], so I just try to get open and contribute when I can.”
Making her first start of the season, Wheeler scored 19 points, one game after posting her career-high of 24 against Phoenix. She added 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
“She’s been such an inspiration [with her hard play],” Shenise Johnson said. “She’s a hardworking player and one of my best friends on the team. I really enjoy being around her. She’s very intense, which we all enjoy, and just brings so much energy into the locker room.”
With Briann January missing the game and most of the bout with Phoenix due to a left achilles tendon strain, Wheeler has stepped up in a big way, playing a combined 77 minutes over the past two games. Wheeler credited her teammates with providing her the fuel for her play.
“My teammates are just telling me to keep going and going,” Wheeler said. “That’s how I am. I’ll die for them, so I just keep pushing and pushing.”
Candice Dupree posted her first double-double with the Fever, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Tiffany Mitchell scored 8 points in the fourth quarter to lead all scorers in the period, finishing with 11 in the game. Mitchell and Achonwa contributed to the team’s 32 bench points, which easily bested Seattle’s three bench points. In fact, the Fever bench has outscored the opponent’s bench in every game this season.
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“That’s what we pride ourselves on,” Johnson said. “We always talk about chemistry, and when the stars come off the floor we want to be better and more efficient and keep up the energy.”
The Storm were led by 25 points from Jewell Loyd. They also got a season-high 23 points from Breanna Stewart, who also added nine rebounds.
The team trailed 66-61 entering the fourth quarter, but outscored the Storm 22-14 over the remainder of the game to get the win. Perhaps most importantly, the Fever limited Stewart to just a pair of free throws in the quarter, after she had scored 12 in the third period. Dupree was the primary defender on Stewart, and Chatman said she helps to set the tone defensively.
“It was huge,” Chatman said. “Stewie’s always going to get her points and always have an impact, but we made some adjustments, and while our defensive effort may have started with Candice on Stewie, that energy trickled down to the rest of her teammates.”
That energy helped the Fever win the rebounding battle, as Indiana grabbed 33 boards to Seattle’s 27.
“Pokey always tells us that last year we were one of the worst rebounding teams, so that’s a focus of the whole team,” Achonwa said. “Even if we’re not getting them, we want to be getting a hand on the ball and disrupting the play so they can’t get easy buckets in transition.”
The Fever improved to 4-5 on the year with the victory. They also got revenge on the Storm, who had beaten them twice in Seattle earlier this year. They are now 4-1 at home and finished their season-long three-game homestand with a record of 2-1.