MINNEAPOLIS — Instead of playing from behind as has been the case throughout the first half of the 2018 WNBA season, the Indiana Fever lead early and often, surrendering brief leads to the defending champion Minnesota Lynx in each of the second, third and fourth quarters, but never relinquishing momentum.
Indiana toppled the Lynx 71-59 to secure its first road win of the season and win at Target Center during the regular season for the first time since 2011. The Fever victory snapped the Lynx’ seven-game win streak, with Indiana winning for just the second time in 18 games and end a six-game losing skid.
Until the game’s final bucket, the Fever led by as many as 11 while the Lynx led by only a deuce in front of a stunned home crowd of 8,632 that saw Minnesota outplayed by last-place Indiana.
“Our defensive scouting report was on point the whole game,” said Indiana coach Pokey Chatman, accenting the defensive effort that held Minnesota beneath 60 points at home for just the third time in Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeves’ 9-year tenure with the Lynx. It was the first time the Lynx were held under 60 points at Target Center since 2010. “We got some good looks on offense while we got some stops. Finally, we married our offense and our defense. I challenged our players to keep finding good shots.”
Center Natalie Achonwa led the Fever with 17 points and nine rebounds, reaching double-digit scoring for the ninth time this season. Candice Dupree added six points and nine rebounds. Rookie Victoria Vivians had three 3-pointers contribute to 13 points.
Perhaps the biggest difference for Indiana though, was the 12 points and five rebounds off the bench from its newest star, seven-time all-star and two-time champion Cappie Pondexter. Playing in her first game for Indiana and the 400th of her career, she made perhaps the game’s biggest 3-pointer, too, with a 26-foot dagger with 1:49 to play that iced the game and lifted the Fever lead to its largest lead and the game’s final margin.
“[Cappie] has ice water in her veins when it comes to big moments,” added Chatman.
Pondexter signed a free agent deal with Indiana just 48 hours ago, about 3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon, after being waived last Friday in Los Angeles. Her veteran presence with the Fever is expected to be felt as much off the court, as on.
Added Chatman, “she’s a professional. She and Candice can start providing some comfort for our babies,” referring to the youthful Indiana roster with just four players owning more than four years’ experience.
Minnesota played from behind to knot the score at 51 with 8:05 remaining, but the resilient Fever scored eight straight points — three each by Pondexter and Kelsey Mitchell, and a jumper from Achonwa — to lead 59-51. The Lynx got 3-pointers from Rebekkah Brunson and Maya Moore, sandwiched around an Achonwa layup, to pull within 4, 61-57, but jubilant Indiana pulled away with 10 of the game’s final 12 points — capped by Pondexter’s dagger.
Achonwa drew Chatman’s praise for her workmanlike effort in limiting reigning MVP Sylvia Fowles to just eight points and eight rebounds. “She has been performing with high efficiency all year, even if her scoring isn’t always SportsCenter-highlight worthy. She battled tonight against Fowles who is one of the best in the game.”
Indiana’s defense also limited the league’s reigning player of the week, Moore, to just nine points and three boards. Brunson paced the Lynx with 13 points and 12 rebounds. She was the Lynx’ only player to reach double figures.
The joyous Fever fought to retain their lead in each quarter. In the third, Minnesota tied the score and took a 36-34 lead on buckets by Seimone Augustus and Moore, but the Fever tied it at 37. After Fowles staked the Lynx to another two-point lead, Erica Wheeler tied the score with a steal and layin, and put Indiana back in the lead with a free throw a minute later. Wheeler’s three points sparked 10 unanswered by the Fever and Indiana hung on for a 49-46 lead after three quarters.
Indiana began the game with an 8-2 lead and added a 7-2 run later in the period for a 19-8 advantage on Vivians’ 3-pointer. The Lynx responded and pulled within 21-19 at the quarter break. Alexis Jones staked Minnesota to its first lead of the game on a 3-pointer to begin the second quarter, but a pair of Tiffany Mitchell free throws put Indiana back in the lead, and the Fever held on for a 34-32 lead at the intermission.
It was just the third time the Fever have led at halftime this season.
The Fever continue a 4th of July road trip while visiting Dallas on Thursday.