The Indiana Fever were closing in on the Phoenix Mercury with just over four minutes to play Monday night. A 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Kelsey Mitchell cut the Mercury’s lead to five points.
But the Fever committed multiple fouls in the ensuing minute, allowing the Mercury to build up their lead from the free-throw line. Sophie Cunningham sealed the game for Phoenix with her fourth 3-pointer of the game, handing Indiana an 83-71 loss.
“I thought they ramped up the defensive end (in the fourth quarter) and I thought we kind of got stagnant and let the ball stick a little too much,” interim coach Carlos Knox said. “Ball movement is something that we kind of struggle with throughout our losses. We’re consistently trying to work on that every single day, but that was something huge for us.”
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Diana Taurasi played one of her best games of the season, scoring 27 points while hitting a season-high seven 3-pointers. Skylar Diggins-Smith and Cunningham also scored in double figures with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
While the Fever finished with a better shooting percentage than the Mercury, Indiana’s 16 turnovers created stagnant offensive stretches. Phoenix’s tight defense also limited Indiana’s opportunities on the perimeter as the Fever attempted just 12 3-pointers, compared to the Mercury’s 33 attempts.
“We just have to consistently follow the game plan,” Knox said. “Sometimes our schemes, what we’re doing on our pick and rolls, they have to remain clear and consistent. Sometimes I think we get kind of rambled up and confused on who’s who. Again, that’s a personnel thing. With it being a personnel thing, it’s one of those things that you have to learn as you become a great WNBA player. That’s huge and that’s one of the things we have not mastered yet, but it’s coming.”
Kelsey Mitchell, 22 points, and NaLyssa Smith, 15 points, continued to stabilize the Indiana offense. Smith also grabbed 11 rebounds, marking a sixth double-double for the rookie. Emma Cannon and Victoria Vivians both added 12 points on 62.5% shooting from the field.
Indiana struggled defensively to start and end the game as Phoenix scored 16 points in the first five minutes on Monday. But after the Fever called a timeout midway through the first quarter, their defensive intensity shifted, which created transition opportunities on offense.
The Fever fought back from a nine-point deficit to get within one at the end of the first quarter. Just a couple of minutes into the second quarter, Vivians hit a pair of 3s and a transition layup to give the Fever their first lead of the night. Mitchell put Indiana up 34-28 with a deep 3. But after layups from Smith and Danielle Robinson, Indiana’s offense made several miscues, allowing Phoenix to get quick transition buckets and end the half on a 7-0 run.
“It’s a big deal for us when we don’t do what we need to do defensively and go into offense,” Mitchell said. “So once we get down there and people are standing, it’s just harder. So those live-ball turnovers and being stagnant, it’s the idea of not knowing where you need to be and not knowing what you’re doing. It sucks, it’s unfortunate and hopefully, we can clean it up.”
Phoenix went into halftime with a 45-41 lead and didn’t trail in the final 20 minutes. The Fever started the second half with a couple buckets, but Taurasi and Diggins-Smith traded multiple 3s to keep extending the lead. Halfway through the quarter, the Mercury switched to a zone defense and constantly interrupted the Fever’s passing lanes.
The Fever will have an opportunity at redemption as they stay in Phoenix for another matchup with the Mercury on Wednesday night.