INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Fever lost a close contest with the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm 84-82 on Tuesday night. Indiana battled back after trailing by as many as 11 late in the second half, only to see last-second attempts by Kelsey Mitchell and Candice Dupree fall short.
“I think tonight we just had to get off to a better start,” said Dupree. “The third quarter, like six of our first 10 possessions were turnovers. That can’t happen. We put ourselves in an 11-point hole at one point and it’s hard to get out of that. The game came down to a close call, so if we can avoid putting ourselves in that position and take care of the ball, we might be up in the fourth and come out with a win.”
The Storm were led by forward Natasha Howard who had 26 points and nine rebounds. Jewell Loyd came on strong late, scoring 18 points and hitting a pair of free throws that proved to be the difference in the win. Mercedes Russell was the third and final member of the Storm in double figures, as the 6-foot, 6-inch center posted 13 points and eight rebounds.
Indiana had five score in double figures including second-year guard Kelsey Mitchell who had 21 points and a career-high seven assists.
“She’s becoming a student of the game,” said Fever head coach Pokey Chatman on Mitchell’s growing playmaking ability. “She’s recognizing things. Some of those assists are pass aheads, some are beating the trap with the pass and not the dribble. She’s growing up and she will continue to do that because she’s really hard on herself.”
Dupree had a double-double, the 68th of her career, with 10 points and 15 rebounds. Natalie Achonwa had 17 points for Indiana in the close loss. The dynamic bench duo for Indiana produced once again, as rookie guard Kennedy Burke had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting and Tiffany Mitchell scored 12.
The two teams battled early on, as Indiana scored their first three possessions including an Achonwa jumper than gave the home team an early 6-2 lead. Seattle looked to use their physicality inside, as Howard scored in the post and Russell got a bucket and the foul that gave Seattle their first lead, 9-6.
Russell tried to do more damage inside for Seattle, but Fever rookie Teaira McCowan had other ideas, blocking Russell twice in the same possession. McCowan finished the opening quarter with three blocked shots and finished the game with two points and four rebounds.
“I think when she’s in the game, she doesn’t realize how much she can impact it with the rim protection,” said Chatman on the rookie center. “She alters shots, everyone remembers the blocked shots and she can move bodies around. Give her a few more games to get used to the pace and more familiar with the players. She’ll be fine.”
Loyd and Howard scored the final nine points to give the Storm a 24-17 lead to end the first. The trio of Loyd, Russell, and Howard scored all 24 of Seattle’s first quarter points.
Burke continued to make plays for Indiana in the second, as the guard came off the bench to drill a 3-pointer and a pair of layups inside the cut the Seattle lead to just two, 33-31. Indiana looked to close the gap at the end of the second, but Howard stepped outside for a 3-pointer that gave Seattle breathing room and a seven-point margin at intermission.
Howard scored inside and Loyd hit a contested jumper to help Seattle to an 11-point lead, 52-41. Indiana halted the Storm’s momentum and Tiffany Mitchell’s seven points off the bench helped keep the Fever close through the third.
The Fever had the final possession of the period and with just four seconds remaining, Kelsey Mitchell raced up court with an inbounds pass and hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer just inside of the half-court logo. Seattle led 65-59 through three quarters.
“I knew that we were flipping the switch and had momentum on our side,” said Kelsey Mitchell. “I thought was a moment where I could use my quick pace to our advantage. I had to look to stay aggressive.”
Indiana came out roaring to begin the final quarter, as Achonwa hit two layups and Dupree hit a fadeaway that cut the Seattle lead to just one, 68-67.
Later in the quarter, Indiana tied at the game at 81-all as Burke hit a 3-pointer and Achonwa drove to the rim with authority for another bucket inside. To that point, the Fever had trailed since the game was tied at 13 midway through the first quarter.
Achonwa split a pair of free throws that gave Indiana an 82-81 lead with just under 30 seconds remaining.
On Seattle’s next possession, Achonwa was called for a blocking foul on a driving Loyd who made both free throws after a review by officials. Kelsey Mitchell and Dupree missed attempts in the final seconds that would have tied the game or given Indiana the lead.
The loss is Indiana’s second in a row and third of the season. Sitting at 3-3, Indiana is .500 or better through six games for the first time since 2016, the last season the team reached the playoffs.
The Fever look to get back on the winning track with a Thursday night matchup in Dallas.
Post Game Interview
Head Coach Pokey Chatman