Los Angeles Offense Puts Fever in Early Hole

By Tom Rietmann | August 8, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever defense, known as one of the fiercest and most consistent in the WNBA, faltered Thursday night against the offensively talented Los Angeles Sparks.

The Sparks scored 50 points in the paint. They shot 54.5 percent from the field. Their crisp passes led to 18 assists and numerous layups against a Fever club that looked out of synch in a 74-64 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I felt like tonight we allowed them way too many transition points, way too many points around the basket,” said Fever forward Tamika Catchings, pointing out that sound defense has been the catalyst behind her team's surge from a 1-7 start this season. “We just didn't have our 'A' game as far as a defensive effort for 40 minutes.

“You can't afford that when you're playing a team with that much talent. You can't afford to have a letdown.”

Jantel Lavender came off the bench to lead the Sparks with 18 points. Starters Candace Parker (17 points), Nneka Ogwumike (14) an Lindsey Harding (12) did their usual damage for an offense that ranks No. 2 in league scoring.

Los Angeles, chasing Minnesota for the top spot in the Western Conference, lifted its record to 15-7. The Fever, in third place in the East, dropped to 10-11 ahead of another home game on Saturday night against a strong Atlanta team.

The first quarter set the tone for Los Angeles. The Sparks opened a 14-point lead, shooting 64.3 percent from the field (9-of-14), with 16 of their first 27 points coming in the paint.

“I thought we had a great first quarter,” Parker said. And it came against a Fever defense that's No. 1 in the WNBA, yielding only 68.1 points a game.

Coach Lin Dunn offered that her Fever team looked fatigued after beating the Chicago Sky twice in four days, holding them to 58 points both times.

“We were just kind of frozen in time that first quarter,” Dunn said about digging the big hole against Los Angeles.

“I just thought we weren't focused or ready mentally or physically in that first quarter and they just jumped on us. Then we played even the rest of the game. But we just didn't do the little things defensively that we've been doing. We didn't hit the free throws we needed. We didn't finish the layups that we got.”

Catchings led the Fever, who shot 34.3 percent from the field, with 17 points. Karima Christmas scored 13. Erlana Larkins turned in a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds and added a career-high six steals.

Said Larkins about her scoring: “I think we saw something that worked early and coach wanted to keep going with it. We were just going inside. They play behind, so when I caught the ball, I just turned around and shot or found an open teammate.”

Indiana kept chipping away after allowing its deficit to grow to 19 in the second quarter. When Catchings connected for the Fever's only 3-point bucket with 4:40 left in the third quarter, Indiana had sliced the Los Angeles lead to five, 53-48.

But Harding and Lavender, with four points apiece in the fourth, made sure the Sparks held the Fever at bay.

“I thought they probably brought their B-plus game and we probably brought our C-minus game,” Dunn concluded.