For only the second time this season, a team has weathered the Storm.
While the Storm were without Sue Bird, who was sitting out to rest her balky knee, the Fever suited up only eight players, with Tiffany Mitchell and her sore wrist joining Stephanie Mavunga (facial injury) and Victoria Vivians (knee) on the injury report.
Clearly unfazed by being underwomanned, the Fever brought an underdog’s fighting spirit into the contest, something they have not done consistently this season.
An illustrative example of this sense of fight occurred in the first quarter. Midway through the opening period, the Storm, then trailing by four points, reeled off an 11-0 scoring run to take a seven-point lead, seemingly on their way to another rout. But the Fever responded. Natalie Achonwa entered the game and steadied her team before Julie Allemand fired a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, one of her four treys in the contest, to knot the game at 19 apiece.
In the second quarter, the Fever maintained pace with the Storm due to a scoring burst from Kennedy Burke. Getting her first start of the season, Burke showed off her range in flurry of efficient scoring. She swished a pair of second-quarter 3-pointers and used her combination of size and ballhandling ability to get buckets around the basket. Burke reached her season high of 15 points in the first half. She finished with a team- and career-high 23.
In contrast, the usually effortlessly-efficient Breanna Stewart struggled with her stroke, going 3-of-9 from the field in the first half, including 1-of-5 from behind the arc. Overall, the league’s sharpest 3-point shooting team (41.6 percent) managed to convert only 4-of-13 (30.8 percent) from deep in the first half.
By going 8-of-16 from deep over the first two quarter, the Fever performed well above their 3-point shooting norm of 36.1 percent. A promising sign for Indy was that only one of these 3-pointers, an end-of-half heave, came from Kelsey Mitchell, the WNBA’s leader in made 3-pointers.
Before banking in that halftime heave, Mitchell scored her first bucket on a crafty drive that allowed Indiana to go into the break with a 43-41 lead.
Mitchell carried this momentum into the third quarter, scoring 10 points in the period to help the Fever stay in front of the Storm. She finished with 17 points. As a team, Indiana did not get up as many 3-pointers after halftime but maintained 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc, going 4-of-8. The Fever’s 24 total 3-point attempts were their second-highest of the season; their 12 made 3-pointers notched a new season high.
While Indiana tapped into the power of the three, Seattle, which usually enjoys the offensive boost that the 3-ball provides, did not. The Storm’s 23.8-percent performance from deep was their second-worst of the season, and Stewart did not connect from three in the second half. She also struggled elsewhere, with the shortness of her shots possibly suggesting tired legs. The leading MVP candidate (next to the Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson) finished with 18 points, a total boosted by her seven free throws. Overall, Seattle used the foul line to stay in the game, making 23 of their 25 attempts.
A sterling scoring exhibition from Jewell Loyd also made the Storm a threat to steal the win. The Gold Mamba contributed a game-high 35 points, with 25 points coming in the second half.
But the Fever survived Loyd’s explosion, as well as the Storm’s free-throw advantage, using 14 offensive rebounds to put in 19 second-chance points. Teaira McCowan had seven offensive boards and 10 total rebounds, both game highs. Achonwa, Lauren Cox and Candice Dupree also helped Indiana clean the glass, grabbing six, seven and nine rebounds, respectively.
After hanging on for the six-point upset, members of the Fever expressed satisfied, and well-earned, self-confidence, suggesting there is more from where this win came from.
Saturday brings one of the most anticipated matchups of the season when the Storm meet the Aces at 3:00 p.m. ET (ABC). The Fever will have the opportunity to score another upset win — this time, versus the Chicago Sky at 5:00 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network), also on Saturday.
Thursday’s other action
Stevens, Vandersloot help the 9-4 Chicago Sky soar past the 1-11 New York Liberty 101-85
After a streak of games where they alternated wins and losses, the Sky now have won three straight games. Azurá Stevens followed up Tuesday night’s game-winning bucket with a season-high scoring effort of 25 points. Courtney Vandersloot, once again, was spectacular, posting a double-double of 19 points and 10 assists. A nearly 50-percent shooting performance from 3-point range also helped Chicago secure the easy win.
For the Liberty, rookie Jazmine Jones continues to provide a scoring spark off the bench; she put in a team-high 18 points.
Four double-digit scoring performances power the 9-3 Las Vegas Aces past the 5-8 Connecticut Sun, 99-78
The Aces responded to Tuesday night’s streak-snapping, last-second loss with an all-round authoritative performance. The star foursome of A’ja Wilson, Angel McCoughtry, Kayla McBride and Dearica Hamby all were excellent. McBride was particularly superb, shooting a scorching 90 percent from the field on her way to a game-and season-high 25 points. As a team, Vegas shot 56.3 percent, their highest mark of the season.
For the Sun, Player of the Week DeWanna Bonner struggled to find her offensive groove and scored only 10 points. Connecticut also needed more than two points from Jasmine Thomas. Alyssa Thomas and Briann January led the Sun with 15 points each.