INDIANAPOLIS — The Dallas Wings came back from a 13-point first half deficit to defeat the Indiana Fever, 89-83, Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“That’s what the effort and fight should look like for 40 minutes,” says Fever head coach Pokey Chatman, “Regardless of who’s in the game, regardless of the score, regardless of what’s going on around us… There [are] some tough lessons we are continuing to learn.”
Dallas starting guard Skylar Diggins-Smith scored a career high 35 points including 14-16 from the free throw line, with 12 rebounds and six assists to lead the Wings. Center Liz Cambage had 23 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks inside. Allisha Gray added 15 points in the winning effort.
Indiana was again led by rookie guard Kelsey Mitchell who tied a season high with 26 points and four assists. Tiffany Mitchell had 12 points and seven rebounds, while center Natalie Achonwa added 11 points and five boards. Forward Erica McCall, who started in place of the injured Candice Dupree, had a near double-double, with nine points and 11 rebounds. Rookie Stephanie Mavunga had a season high 10 points off the bench for Indiana.
The game opened with the Wings attempting to get Cambage several looks in the post to establish the team inside. The first few were successful, as she scored the game’s first points on a hook shot and a free throw on the following possession. The Fever then sent multiple defenders inside to slow her down, which seemed to work as the 6-foot, 8-inch center was held to just three points in the opening quarter.
On the offensive end, Kelsey Mitchell dropped a defender with a highlight worthy crossover dribble and promptly drained a 3-point basket on the play. She picked up 11 first quarter points on 3-4 shooting from beyond the three-point arc.
Diggins-Smith took on the challenge of dueling Mitchell, as she had 12 first quarter points of her own.
Indiana lead by one, 23-22, to end the first quarter as Mavunga was able will Indiana into the lead with great post offense in the opening frame’s final seconds.
The Fever started the second quarter off strong, outscoring the Wings 14-6 in the first 5:04 of the quarter. The last nine 10 points of the barrage came from behind the 3-point line, as rookie forward Victorian Vivians drained a pair of threes and Tiffany Mitchell completed a 4-point play as she was fouled on her own 3-pointer.
Just seconds later, the Fever would go on another run, this time 6-0, as Stephanie Mavunga made a jump shot off the pick and pop to give Indiana a 13-point lead, their largest of the half.
“Anytime Coach Pokey calls my name, I’m really excited,” said Mavunga. “I really want to bring energy and anything else I can, work on setting screens, getting my teammates open, and knocking down an open shot whenever that is, that I’m ready and open. So, anything the coach needs I’m just going to go out there and do it.”
The Wings were able to battle back to close the second, with the Fever taking a 48-44 lead into the break, their first lead at the half this season.
Dallas started the second half on a 12-5 run, taking the lead for their first time since early in the second quarter when they led 25-23.
Indiana looked like they were in trouble as the offense stalled and Diggins-Smith poured in another 10 points in the quarter. The Fever were able to battle back in the final minutes of the third, as McCall’s effort inside showed up on a couple of put back buckets.
“I just wanted to keep doing the things I was doing before I started,” said McCall. “Bring the same energy, getting rebounds, you know just providing the extra oomph that my team needed.”
Achonwa added a couple of buckets of her own, scoring on a lob inside with less than a second left on the clock, giving the Fever a 65-62 lead headed into the fourth.
The Wings and the Fever traded baskets during the fourth, as neither time was able to establish a lead for more than a few moments. Kelsey Mitchell was able to regain her shooting form from earlier in the game as she hit a three, scored on a driving layup, and hit a pair of free throws consecutively to keep the Fever afloat in the middle of the fourth.
With the score tied at 79 inside the final minutes, Dallas was attempting to get Cambage the ball in the post. Tiffany Mitchell came across the lane to knock the ball off of Cambage and out of bounds to give Indiana the ball back after several unsuccessful offensive possessions. The initial offensive set was unsuccessful, but Vivians grabbed the rebound the keep the possession alive. She was fouled seconds later, giving the Fever a 81-79 lead on a pair of free throws with 48.4 remaining.
Diggins-Smith hit a jumper to tie the game again. The next time down, she was fouled but missed her first free throw in the one and one bonus. Glory Johnson crashed the lane on the missed free throw, scoring on the offensive rebound to give Dallas an 83-81 lead.
After an unsuccessful possession, Indiana was forced to foul Dallas the remainder of the game, with Diggins-Smith and Cambage making their attempts from the charity stripe to close out the Fever for a six-point win.
The Fever will travel to New York for a matchup with the Liberty on Sunday afternoon.