Game Recap: Fever 77, Dream 86

INDIANAPOLIS -- On a joyous and celebratory night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Indiana Fever didn't want a visiting opponent ruining the mood.

Problem was, the Fever got careless with the basketball late in the game. Indiana's defense struggled at times, too. And when Friday night's 2013 home opener had ended, the Fever players were left to deal with an 86-77 loss to the Atlanta Dream.

Only a couple of hours earlier, in a pregame ceremony, Indiana's players and coaches accepted their championship rings for winning the 2012 WNBA title. A commemorative banner was hoisted to the rafters as 10,756 fans screamed their approval.

The game's outcome left a cloud of disappointment.

“Our sense of urgency wasn't there,” Indiana Coach Lin Dunn said. “I don't know if we were still getting our rings, or the banner was still coming down, or what, but we looked like we were in LaLa Land.”

Indiana (1-1) and the Dream (2-0) were locked in a tightly contested game until late in the third quarter. The Fever, who committed just three turnovers in the first half, broke down with some sloppy play. Three Fever turnovers helped Atlanta stage a 10-0 run to end the third quarter, giving the visitors a commanding 71-61 lead.

Atlanta intercepted Indiana's soft passes. The Dream stole the ball by running up behind Indiana offensive players. Atlanta scored 24 points off of Indiana's total of 15 turnovers.

“We have to do a much better job of just taking control of the ball,” said Fever forward Tamika Catchings, who led her team with 20 points. “But it's not like you can dwell on this. It's early. Now, every single day we practice, we have to get better.”

Indiana point guard Briann January, too, vowed that things will change.

“Tonight, we just got a little loose with the ball,” said January, who had 13 points and a game-high seven assists. “And with a team like Atlanta, with their great defensive players, you can't do that. They'll capitalize every time.”

The Dream, led by Angel McCoughtry's 29 points, shot 50 percent from the floor (34-of-68). Alex Bentley, a native of Indianapolis and a Dream rookie, totaled 10 points and a team-high six assists off the bench.

“We weren't communicating,” Dunn said about the Fever's defensive effort. “We were just a step slow everywhere.”

Added Catchings: “Defense is heart and communication. That's what we've been able to do so well. But I don't feel like we did that tonight. But, like I said, we will get better.

Atlanta totaled 21 points from its reserves. The Fever, who were without injured players Erin Phillips, Jeanette Pohlen and Jessica Davenport, had just two points from its bench.

The Dream outrebounded Indiana, 36-29. Even more hurtful was Atlanta's 22 second-chance points, compared to just four for the home team.

Now Indiana will try to regroup and prepare for Wednesday's game at New York and then a nationally televised home game June 8 against Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury. The 2012 championship ceremonies are over, and the Indiana team wants to make sure it's ready for the rest of its 34-game schedule.

Guard Katie Douglas expects just that to happen.

“We're in this for the long haul,” said Douglas, who scored 17 points.

Douglas was asked about the disappointment of losing on such an otherwise happy night.

“I can think of a different outcome,” she said. “We talked about it pregame. It's hard for teams to have all that hoopla before the game, and we just didn't do a good job of regaining our focus and coming out ready to play. I don't think we ever really found our groove.”