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Monday, April 22, 2024

Fever overcome halftime deficit, beat defending champion Sky

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The Fever pulled out an 89-87 win at home over the Chicago Sky on Sunday. It is the team’s fifth win of the season, improving its record to 5-13.

It was a hectic game of ups and downs that ended in a Fever victory. The Sky outscored the Fever 25-9 in the second quarter as Chicago took a 50-37 lead into halftime. Indiana responded by outscoring Chicago 35-20 in the third quarter to put the Fever ahead 72-70 going into the fourth quarter.

In the past, the Fever had issues in third quarters. When Indiana had a five-game losing streak (that ended last Sunday), opponents outscored the Fever in the third quarter of all five games. The Fever have won the third period in three consecutive games.

“I am extremely proud of their resilience,” Fever interim head coach Carlos Knox said. “They are truly a team that is ready to turn the corner.”

“At halftime, he came in and basically told us that we weren’t doing what we needed to do,” Fever forward Emma Cannon said. “We knew that in order for us to get it done, we had to step up our game.”

Cannon’s play was a big reason for the Fever’s comeback in the second half. Cannon did not score in the first half and she responded with 8 points in the third quarter. She finished the game with a season-high 11 points.

“I’m not one that sits and pouts or cries about minutes,” Cannon said. “I know my time will come, I know what I’m capable of doing and I know how to stay within myself.”

Cannon signed with the Fever on June 5 after being waived by the Phoenix Mercury earlier this season. Her 14 minutes were the most she’s played since joining the squad two weeks ago.

The fourth quarter was back and forth with neither team making a large run. Indiana trailed 87-85 with 39 seconds left when rookie forward NaLyssa Smith made a post move to score while being fouled. Smith made a free throw to convert the and-one and give the Fever an 88-87 lead.

Then, things got wild.

Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot missed a layup and Indiana’s Emily Engstler grabbed a rebound. Engstler was double-teamed and began to stumble. While falling, Engstler tried to throw a pass that was stolen by Chicago’s Allie Quigley. Quigley then missed a shot, the Sky got a rebound, missed again, got another rebound, missed again and a fight for the ball ended in a jump ball.

NaLyssa Smith won the jump ball for Indiana and Victoria Vivians made a free throw to give the Fever a two-point lead which ended up being the game’s final score, 89-87. 

“I just knew I had to get the tip,” Smith said. “It’s all about timing it right.”

Knox said he did his best to stay level-headed during the chaotic situation.

“I really wanted to make sure that I stayed relaxed and calm for my team,” Knox said. Knox admitted that his emotions were running wild on the inside while the two teams fought for the ball.

For Smith, it was the best game of her young career as she scored a career-high 26 points to go along with her 11 rebounds. Smith shot 11-of-17 from the field en route to a victory.

“I just came into this game knowing I had to have a dominant performance to get the win,” Smith said. “Everybody bought in collectively. We just all wanted to win.”

Smith’s offensive performance helped Indiana make 51 percent of its field goals. Her 26-point game breaks her career-high of 21 points that Smith set last Sunday against the Minnesota Lynx.

“She’s just in a different mindset now and she understands the significance of what it takes to be a professional basketball player,” Knox said. “She’s kind of hitting that stride.”

Another bright performer was Fever rookie Lexie Hull. Hull also set her career-high with a 10-point performance. Hull, who was selected sixth overall in this year’s WNBA Draft, played 23 minutes. That was the most that Hull played this season. 

“I wanted to make sure that Lexie was rewarded for some of the work and the effort that she’s put in,” Knox said. Knox mentioned that Hull has been performing well and rapidly improving in practice. “I think she’s at a place where she can really perform.”

“I think it’s a matter of having confidence from my teammates and the coaching staff,” Hull said. “We feel the utmost confidence from them so it’s easy to go in and know that they have our backs.”

The Fever are now at the midway point of the regular season, having played 18 of 36 games. Indiana will head to Dallas to play the Wings on Thursday night.

Zion Brown is a sports reporter for NextGen Sports, a collaboration with The Recorder Media Group.

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