Indiana Fever lose heartbreaker against New York Liberty

The Indiana Fever began their 2021 season Friday with a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the New York Liberty.

Sabrina Ionescu hit a game-winning three-point shot with less than a second remaining to seal the deal for New York, 90-87. It was the first game back for Ionescu, who tore ligaments in her ankle in just the third matchup of the year last July, and was out for the season.

“I wanted it,” Ionescu said. “I haven’t played in a while and I wanted it for this team. It’s just the beginning for us.  I’m just excited to get back playing and doing what I love.”

With the game tied at 87, Indiana did have a chance to take the lead, but Kelsey Mithcell was called for a traveling violation, which gave the ball back to the Liberty. That set up the ending sequence, when Ionescu caught the ball at the end of an extended screen and let it fly.

The Fever struggled with shooting in the first half, but were able to stay in the game because of their rebounding. They won that battle, 45-28, including 19 on the offensive side. Third-year center Teaira McCowan had 16 of those boards, while newcomer veteran Jantel Lavender added 10.

Indiana coach Marianne Stanley was happy with the rebounding, but said her team needs to up their shooting percentage.

“Nineteen offensive rebounds usually gets it done,” she said. “I mean the offensive rebounding game 19-3, usually when you see that you feel like you coming with a win but we missed a lot of makeable shots.”

McCowan was dominant inside, scoring 22 points on 10-17 shooting from the field. The Fever seemed to make an effort to get the ball to her – a departure from the recent past, as last year they struggled to give her touches down low. If she continues her opening night trajectory, McCowan is poised for a breakout season.

Mitchell also played well, scoring 24 points on 10-19 from the field. She did struggle from three, shooting 1 for 7, but she was a very effective scorer. In the future, Mitchell and McCowan will have to lead Indiana.

Rookie Kysre Gondrezick played for 12 minutes and scored five points, and Chelsey Perry, another rookie, logged three minutes and did not score.

One of the things that hurt the Fever in the game was three-point shooting. New York shot 13-16 from beyond the arc, which is good for 50 percent. Indiana shot 16.7 percent from three-point land, shooting 3-18. As we advance, they will need to improve defending three, as they allowed too many open three-point shots. Also, they must knock down three’s at a much higher percentage.

Stanley said the team needs to improve on making easy shots.

“We just missed makeable shots, the improvement for us is to make more of them,” she said.

It was a good showing for the Fever, which already looks much-improved. Although it was one game, they looked like a team that will compete, and they look to be better than they were last year. It will be interesting to see how their season unfolds.