There was nobody between Danielle Robinson and the rim. The Fever point guard raced down the court with a chance to improbably cut the Atlanta Dream’s lead to 3 points. Atlanta had led by as many as 30 in the first half in what looked like another blowout before a combination of Fever defensive adjustments and cold Dream shooting swung the pendulum of the game. Now, with five minutes left in the game, the lead was in Robinson’s sights.
Not in her sights was Rhyne Howard. The Atlanta forward closed on the smaller Robinson as she rose for a layup and swatted the ball off the backboard. The Dream took off in the other direction as Howard’s momentum took her into the stands. She trailed the play on the other end, received a pass a step in from the 3-point line and swished a jumper. The four-point swing pushed the Dream’s lead to 7. The Fever never got any closer in a 91-81 loss.
“There’s a lot of ways to lose, and I think we can be proud of the second half and the comeback that we had, but it never feels good to lose,” rookie guard Lexie Hull said. “But I definitely think we can walk away feeling proud of ourselves for fighting back and not giving up in that second half.”
The Fever went into the locker room at halftime down 28 points after a performance interim coach Carlos Knox called embarrassing. In that visitors locker room at Gateway Center Arena, Knox and the players had a conversation about intensity and focus, two things they lacked in the first half.
“We kinda talked at halftime, asking the team about do we want to be here?” Hull said. “If we want to be here, play like we want to be here, and if you don’t, then sit down and let someone else who really wants to be out there play, and I think that kind of just sparked some competitiveness and drive to show that we can have a better half. We can play a lot better, and we need to play together in order to do that.”
The Fever opened the third quarter on an 11-2 run, as the Dream, who had shot 62% in the first half, fell cold offensively. Indiana outscored Atlanta 28-13 and continued chipping away behind the aggressive play of Hull and NaLyssa Smith and an unglamorous, midrange-heavy lunch pail game from Emma Cannon. The trio combined for 51 points, 39 of which came on two-pointers and free throws.
The Dream played about as close to a perfect first quarter as possible, making 14 of 18 shots, including all four 3-point attempts. Howard finished the game with 20 points, including 9 in the opening period. If it wasn’t Howard, it was Atlanta’s ball movement shredding the Fever’s short-handed defense, down Kelsey Mitchell with a foot injury and Emily Engstler with an illness.
It wasn’t just the shooting. The Dream extended possessions with five offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, the Fever turned the ball over 10 times and were 7-of-21 from the field. Open looks from the outside clanged off the rim. Twice, Fever players missed shots in the paint from point-blank range.
Roles switched in the second half. The Fever switched to a zone, which stifled the Dream’s offensive flow. Atlanta shot 29% in the third quarter. But ultimately, Indiana had dug itself into too big of a hole in the first half. As Hull said, there are a lot of ways to lose, and Wednesday at least offered a way the Fever hadn’t seen on their 15-game slide.
“Could you imagine if we actually started the game out with that same energy, that same intensity?” Cannon said. “I was telling them, ‘Think about it. We could be up 20 instead of down 20.’ It’s a learning point for everybody, not just the rookies, but everybody that’s in that locker room that if we put in the effort and we go out there and play hard, anything is possible.”