Rookie Howard Stars in Fever's Double-Overtime Loss

By Tom Rietmann | May 17, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- Pain and disappointment marked players' faces in the Indiana locker room. Losing in double overtime in the home opener will do that.

But to suggest the Fever's 90-88 loss to the Atlanta Dream on Saturday night left behind a disheartened team wouldn't be accurate. Indiana Coach Lin Dunn and point guard Briann January punctured that theory.

“I'm not dispirited at all. Are you kidding me?” Dunn said. “I think we're battling with less than our full deck. I'm optimistic.”

Said January: “We've gained so much knowledge and gotten so much better in the last two games, even though we've lost them, it's going to help us in the long run.”

The Fever, 0-2, played its second game without star forward Tamika Catchings (back injury) and reserve guard Layshia Clarendon (concussion). Dunn mixed and matched lineups all night. She attempted to coax a victory out of her team, which impressively shot 50 percent from the field (37-of-74) but struggled with 25 turnovers.

In the end, Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry, who had a game-high 27 points, buried the winning shot -- a 3-pointer with 8.8 seconds remaining. Indiana's Maggie Lucas missed a 3 attempt with 1 second left.

For Indiana, one of the biggest stories was the play of rookie Natasha Howard, who scored a team-high 21 points, including 11 in the two overtimes. Howard, in her first two games with the Fever, has totaled 37 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocked shots.

Performing in the big moments?

“It doesn't faze her. She keeps her poise and composure,” Dunn said about the fifth overall pick of the draft.

Howard's nifty fake and drive with 29.5 seconds left sent Indiana up, 88-87.

“She has the talent and we want to ride her,” said January, who totaled 20 points and five assists.

Howard, from Florida State, teamed masterfully with Indiana veteran Erlana Larkins. They took turns passing and cutting from the high post. Larkins wound up with a career-high 17 points and 13 rebounds for the fifth double-double of her career.

Howard, asked if she was surprised about playing so well so quickly in the WNBA, managed a smile.

“Just a little,” she said. “Coach Dunn expected me to do a lot of things as a rookie coming in. But I have good veterans around to help me out and keep my head on straight.”

Despite the strong shooting from the field, Indiana hurt itself by missing nine of its 19 free throws. The Fever's 25 turnovers led to 30 Atlanta points. Veteran Shavonte Zellous committed seven turnovers -- six in the first half -- and didn't play after the third quarter.

Zellous, Dunn said, “has to come ready to take care of the basketball.”

Indiana, playing in its first double-overtime game since 2009, struggled with missed opportunities. Karima Christmas' layup fell off the rim with 2 seconds left in regulation time and the score knotted at 72-all. In the first overtime, the Fever had possession with 4.6 seconds left and the score at 81-all but failed to get up a shot.

Afterward, Dunn chose to look ahead to next Friday's game against Washington at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“We're getting better,” she said. “I saw a lot of grit, toughness, fight. I saw a lot of good things from a lot of different people.”

CATCHINGS DEALING WITH BACK INJURY

Indiana forward Tamika Catchings is taking her recovery from a lower back injury on “a week to week, day to day” basis.

Catchings, who has sat out the Fever's first two games, isn't sure when she suffered the injury but said it likely happened during workouts within the past 10 days. Catchings, who will be 35 years old in July, was coming off one of the healthiest, most productive off-seasons of her WNBA career.

Asked whether she could possibly return to the lineup for next Friday's home game against Washington, the Fever star didn't want to hazard a guess.

“I hope so, but you never know,” Catchings said Saturday night before the Fever hosted Atlanta. “You just have to go with what the doctors say.”