98 Los Angeles
By Tom Rietmann | July 31, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever received a record-breaking performance from its reserves Sunday night and combined it with a continuing trend of playing defense with vise-grip intensity.
The result? Indiana captured a dominating 98-63 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Fever bench produced a franchise-record 57 points, which tied for fifth best in WNBA history. And the Fever defense forced the Sparks to buckle under its ferocious pressure, holding the visitors to 35.9 percent shooting from the field.
The victory was Indiana's fourth in a row and solidified its lead atop the Eastern Conference with a 14-6 record. Every Fever player in uniform scored. No Fever player was on the floor less than 16 minutes. The entire team could enjoy the moment.
“The (recent) All-Star break was great for us,” said center Jessica Davenport, whose 16 points off the bench led Indiana. “We were able to refresh a little, rest our bodies and our minds.
“Coming out of the All-Star break, we've been having some great defensive efforts. And that comes from everybody. When the starters come out and the bench comes in, we need to bring that energy. We've been doing a good job with that.”
Indiana has held opponents to an average of 60.1 points during its four-game winning streak. Three of the opponents have shot 36 percent or worse.
“I definitely think we've turned it up a notch defensively,” center Tammy Sutton-Brown said. “We know every game is so important and it will come down to the end of the season for home-court advantage (in the playoffs). We really want that.”
Coach Lin Dunn, like many of her players, pointed to the All-Star break as a time when the Fever defense relocated its momentum. The Fever dropped three straight games before beating Chicago right before the mid-season break.
“We're always a better defensive team when we're rested and fresh,” Dunn said. “Of all the things we do, our defense takes the most energy. We pick up full court, we trap, we rotate and really contest everything. When we get to a position where we're fatigued and run down, it really hits our defense first.
“Having the All-Star break, getting the time off and coming back with fresh legs, then you see us once again at that high level.”
Los Angeles Coach Joe Bryant noticed. “Defensively, they took us out of everything,” he said about Indiana.
The Sparks were coming off a victory Saturday night in Chicago. If they were fatigued, Indiana wanted to take advantage and used some full-court pressure and uptempo offense from the opening tip. The Fever took its first lead on a free throw by Sutton-Brown with 4:32 left in the first quarter and ran away with the game thereafter.
Tangela Smith was the only Fever starter in double-digit scoring with 15. Interestingly, the low scorer for Indiana was star forward Tamika Catchings with four, but she collected a game-high 11 rebounds in just 20 minutes.
Besides the 16 points from Davenport, Indiana's bench also generated double-figure scorers in Shavonte Zellous (13) and rookie Jeanette Pohlen (10). With one more point from Shyra Ely and Shannon Bobbitt, who each scored nine, Indiana's bench would have established a WNBA record with five players in double digits.
“This team has the most depth of any I've played on in my career,” said Smith, who's in her 14th WNBA season.. “We have a lot of weapons. It's hard to defend us.”
As Dunn pointed out, WNBA championship-contending teams need to have eight, nine and 10 players who can contribute regularly. Every Indiana player has produced double-figure scoring at some point this season.
“Everybody we picked up in the offseason is contributing, and I think that's key,” Dunn said.
Other strong characteristics of the 2011 Indiana team are its resolve and work ethic.
“We're a team that's never satisfied, and I think that's a very good thing,” said point guard Erin Phillips. “We don't want to be complacent with our defense or anything. We're always looking to improve.”