Thursday, June 30, 2022
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Fever play well in 89-87 win over Sky

The Indiana Fever got an exciting 89-87 home win over the defending champion Chicago Sky Sunday, as rookie NaLyssa Smith lead four players in double figures with a career-high 26 points.

Indiana overcame a 15-point deficit by outscoring Chicago – without Candace Parker for the second straight game due to injury – 35 to 20 in the third quarter. With the Fever down 87-85, Smith made a shot on the left block, and was fouled. She hit the free throw to get the 88-87 lead, and Indiana then got a couple of stops to seal the victory.

Smith shot 11-of-17 from the field and grabbed 11 rebounds while looking comfortable all game long, and playing with tremendous confidence. Coach Carlos Knox said he has been impressed with Smith’s learning curve and work ethic.

“I think it was awareness for her approach to this game, her approach this week,” Knox said of her performance. “She’s just in a different mindset now, and she understands the significance of what it takes to be a professional basketball player. Now she’s turning the corner when it comes to understanding, and she will still have ups and downs because she’s a rookie.”

The former Baylor star said she knew she had to show up big for the 5-13 Fever to pull off the upset.

“I came into this game just knowing I had to have a dominant performance to get the win,” she said.

Indiana did a great job making sure Smith got touches, and they went to her down the stretch.

Their bench played well on Sunday, scoring 33 points. Emma Cannon led the way with 11 points, and rookie Lexie Hull added a career-high 10 points in 24 minutes. Hull’s biggest move, however, was coming away with a huge jump ball in the game’s final minute to help close out the win.

Knox said Hull has been resilient in working her way into the rotation after not getting much playing time to begin the season.

“I wanted to make sure that Lexi was kind of rewarded for some of the work and effort that she’s been doing,” he said. “Lexi has been executing in practice. Lexi is a very good player, and she’s one of the players that can bring a lot to the table with her length her IQ, just her ability to score the basketball. She just has to get comfortable.”

Rookie Emily Engstler also played a scrappy game, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking three shots in a tough defensive display.

Leading scorer Kelsey Mitchell scored 13 points and shot just 5-13 from the field, but she did an outstanding job getting her teammates involved by dishing out nine assists. Mitchell was the point guard down the stretch for the Fever.

“Kelsey is understanding that she draws so much attention as a potential all-star for our team,” Knox said.” She can be on the floor in different positions and open up the floor for our offense in such a great way, and tonight I think she displayed that.”

This Fever win could be a great building block for the team. Knox trusted his rookies, and they rewarded him with good play. The entire squad must continue to play through Smith, and Mitchell must continue to play make at a high level. The next step for this young team is to improve on defense and hit open shots.

Indiana’s next game is Thursday, as they head to Dallas to take on the Wings.

WNBA legend Sue Bird announces retirement

Sue Bird. Bettina Hansen/AP photo.
Sue Bird. Bettina Hansen/AP photo.

Longtime Seattle Storm point guard and WNBA legend Sue Bird announced this morning that she will retire at the end of the 2022 season.

“I’ve decided this will be my final year,” she posted on social media. “I have loved every minute, and still do, so gonna play my last year, just like this little girl played her first.”

Bird, 41, has been with the Storm since being drafted No. 1 in 2002, and is the league’s all-time assists leader – at 3,114 today – over her 19 seasons playing. She is a four-time WNBA champion, a 12-time All-Star, and eight-time all-WNBA selection, and helped the USA win four Olympic gold medals over the course of her career. Bird also won four FIBA World Championship golds with the U.S. and five Euroleague titles in Russia.

“Gonna miss ya, Sue Bird, when you leave the Seattle Storm court as a player for the last time, but in the meantime, gotta love every minute you’ve got left, knowing there’s so much more you’ll do off the court when that time comes,” Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder tweeted on social media. “Love forever!”

Bird, a UConn standout and two-time NCAA champion, said she had considered retiring after last season, but was inspired to return when fans chanted “one more year” after Seattle’s final game. She signed a one-year contract and said this “could be” her last season, but did not make it official until today.

In a press release, the Storm said Bird’s importance to the franchise “cannot be overstated.” In games she has played for Seattle, she has scored or assisted on 35.4 percent of all baskets.

Bird said attention to fitness and nutrition has kept her going. She is the only player in league history to appear in more than 500 games, and has started all 559 in which she has appeared.

Her announcement comes as the Storm readies to leave for a road trip that takes them to Connecticut and New York. Bird said the timing was purposeful.

“As the season has gone, like I said, I pretty much knew, and then once I saw the schedule, and then once I started packing for this trip a little bit, I was like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be my last time playing in New York. My last time playing in front of my family and friends.’ And so that’s why the timing of this is what it is,” Bird said in a video posted by the team on social media.

“I just really felt strongly about announcing my retirement, saying it was my last year so I can share that with my family and my friends, all the people in New York who have watched me growing up so they can come and see me play for the last time in my home state. So I’m excited about that. It’s also bittersweet.”

Seattle, currently 9-5, plays the Sun Friday and the Liberty Sunday.

The hump day grind

Today’s results:

The Aces rallied from behind to beat the Wings, 92-84. Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson combined for 52 points.

The win also puts Las Vegas in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game

The Mercury ran past the Fever, 93-80.

The Sun downed the Dream, 105-92. Courtney Williams had a season-high 20 points for Connecticut.

WNBA team news:

The Sky’s defense has improved, but they have yet to play their best.

Olympic player news:

People need to know Katrina McClain.

Fever facing another opportunity to reinvent themselves against Mercury

NaLyssa Smith. NBAE/Getty Images photo.
NaLyssa Smith. NBAE/Getty Images photo.

Once again tonight, the Indiana Fever have a chance to show that they’re turning a corner. Will it happen?

Sunday they outlasted the Minnesota Lynx on the road to snap a five-game losing streak and earn their fourth win of the season. It was their second victory over the Lynx, and their first in more than two weeks.

With strong performances from rookie NaLyssa Smith, who put up 21 points; and veterans Kelsey Mitchell, Danielle Robinson and Victoria Vivians, who also each scored in double-digits, the Fever have a chance to carry that momentum forward and win two two straight games in a row for the first time in over a month, as they host the struggling Phoenix Mercury.

If anyone will lead them there, it’s Smith, who is averaging 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. The talented forward has scored in single digits just twice, and coach Carlos Knox said her game has grown exponentially since the last such outing two weeks ago.

“NaLyssa has been putting in an extreme amount of work,” Knox said. “We’ve had very detailed conversations about her being a professional and making an immediate contribution to the game.”

After making the WNBA playoffs for 11 consecutive seasons, Indiana has struggled since franchise legend Tamika Catchings retired in 2016. A high-energy playmaker who was dangerous on both ends of the floor, Catchings was the consummate team leader, often willing them to wins.

Mitchell, whom the Fever drafted in 2018, has been a reliable double-digit scorer with numerous unsung brilliant performances. But she hasn’t always had a supporting cast around her, nor is she the vocal leader that Catchings was. Smith, who responded on court when Minnesota guard Aerial Powers pushed her during the weekend matchup, has that fire.

“I woke up yesterday and was like, ‘we’ve got to get this one,'” she said post-game. “You get tired of losing. I wanted to win badly, so I had to to everything to help my team.”

Knox said that Smith wouldn’t have made the plays she did against the Lynx 3-4 weeks ago.

“I think she’s coming into her own as a professional,” he said. “She understands the pace, the speed and the physicality of the WNBA. I feel like she’s on the way to being exactly who she wants to be in this league. It will take determination, desire and focus, but she will be one of those players.”

Another bright spot for Indiana is Vivians. After missing half of her first three years in the league due to injury, she is averaging 11.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, while bringing energy to the floor that is reminiscent of her days at Mississippi State.

Robinson, averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, said she is happy to help take some of the load off Mitchell.

Kelsey Mitchell. NBAE/Getty Images photo.

“Kelsey’s been carrying a lot of weight for us, and sometimes me carrying more of the load makes it easier for her,” Robinson said. “She’s drawing so much attention that there’s going to be times that I need to take the lead…..I’ve got to be able to bring that every night.”

Defense has been a liability for the Fever, as they finished 12th in defense last year, and they are last on defense this year so far. They give up 88.1 points per game, and have a defensive rating of 108.4.

Sparks of life on that end of the floor have come from rookie Queen Egbo, who is second on the team in rebounds, with a 6.7 average, and scrappy rookie Emily Engstler, who averages 6.4 and likes to disrupt opponents.

The win against Minnesota came from tough play, Knox said.

“It was about grit. We came into the huddle and talked about what it would take to win a game like this,” he said. “A lot of things have to go right for you to walk out with a win, so we wanted to make sure we were positive, focused and determined.”

Knox said the team was “in tune with each other” before, and during the matchup.

“I think we came together as a team in so many different areas, from communication to our passing ability, to our ability to play defensively…..it was a matter of being in rhythm and being focused.”

It will take that kind of mentality to beat Phoenix tonight.

“We know there’s another level of energy and effort we have to get to to win games,” Robinson said after the Lynx win. “The effort we gave (tonight) was completely different than the (losing) effort against new York in the second half. We feel like we’re giving games say, and tonight we didn’t want to do that. So we made plays down the stretch.”

Smith said she talked through schemes with her teammates Sunday, and increased communication among everyone made a difference.

“It’s only up from here,” Smith said. “We’ve got to stay consistent and keep our foot on the gas.”

Tipoff is 7 p.m. ET.

Lamarr Fields contributed to this report.