The Fever Showed Why There’s Optimism In Indiana After Snapping Their Losing Streak In Atlanta

In one of the best games of the young WNBA season, the Indiana Fever walked away from Atlanta with a 90-87 win over the Dream. It was their first win in the Christie Sides era — and first win overall since June 19th, 2022 — snapping a record-tying 20-game losing streak.

It was a performance that proved things are different in Indiana. This isn’t last year’s team even if much of the roster is similar; a new staff, the No. 1 overall pick in Aliyah Boston, and internal development from recent draft selections brings the Fever a different feel.

“We’re trying to change the culture, and that takes steps… getting our first win was one of them and everyone is excited for each other,” said Boston postgame.

Walking through the visiting team tunnel to the media room, that excitement was palpable; vociferous cheering could be heard from the locker room on the other side of a concrete wall. Sides praised the whole team, including Kelsey Mitchell for her clutch free throws, and Erica Wheeler in her homecoming to Atlanta, where she played and started last season. Perhaps the primary takeaway of the game was how essential Boston and NaLyssa Smith were, what they could unlock for one another, and how they propelled the team in a tight game.

“I’m just so proud of our team… really proud of NaLyssa Smith, Aliyah Boston keep fightin’ in there, she’s not getting a call, but that is OK because she is gonna keep coming back,” said a freshly drenched Sides after the game.

Smith had one of the finest games of her pro career, finishing with 23 points and 13 boards, including three makes from beyond the arc. Boston finished 13 points and 7 rebounds, while largely stifling Cheyenne Parker in the second half after her dominant first. With the first and second overall picks of the 2023 and 2022 drafts, respectively, the Fever have one of the most enticing frontcourt duos in basketball, and this game showcased reason for optimism this season and moving forward.

With vastly different skillsets and unique abilities that set them apart, the size of Boston, 6’5, and Smith, 6’4, is incredibly difficult to handle when both are capable of operating from multiple areas of the halfcourt. Smith’s versatility was embodied by a staple play from the Fever in this game; empty corner ball screens between her and star guard Kelsey Mitchell.

The very first play of the game, the Fever open up with Smith screening and popping for Mitchell. Atlanta likes to ice ball screens, forcing the ball-handler to the sideline and away from the middle of the court. Smith popping and willingly taking that shot without hesitation is pivotal to punishing a team that wants to play this coverage. Her aggression was essential as she started to draw harder closeouts from the Dream, attacking the paint with coordination and footwork.

Smith’s growth as a distance shooter is particularly notable. Through 35 W games, Smith is shooting 38.7 from beyond the arc on three attempts per game (106 attempts total) after taking 65 total threes in her four year career at Baylor. No shot was bigger for the Fever and more backbreaking for the Dream than Smith’s hoist as the clock wound down in the mid-fourth off of a broken play.

“God, nothing but God,” said Smith laughing. What else is there to do with 2 seconds left on the clock?

“NaLyssa… the word for her is aggressive,” Sides said. “I gave it to her day one… she made some big shots when she was tired, but also we were able to post her.”

The Fever continued to attack with those empty sets, but with intentionality, cross-screening with a guard to get Smith into the low post on a cleared side (less immediate help is present that way) and the opportunity to use her handle and footwork to attack the rim, scoring twice with baseline drives off a spin.

Boston thrived in the post as well. She’s acclimated exceptionally fast on both ends, drawing double and at time triple teams in the post much like she did at South Carolina. Watching her battle against one of the best post players in the league in Parker was a great test. She excelled with quick duck-ins and seals, moved the ball well when drawing two, and was a decisive force in the paint.

While she isn’t yet the pop threat that Smith is, she brings a different sort of threat as a roller and screener. Her playmaking and ability to continue plays through quick decisions and ball movement was, again, essential in attacking Atlanta’s coverage.

Note the quick screen early for Kelsey Mitchell, the quick redirect to trigger the offense, and the subtle screen on Rhyne Howard to give Victoria Vivians some slight breathing room. It’s in that minutiae that Boston dominates as a player. Vivians pitches back to the slow rolling Boston for an immediate jumper, similar to a shot she’d hit multiple times in the game to attack the pockets afforded by the Dream.

The Fever are still figuring one another out, they have a long season ahead and are at their roots a very young group, but the win over the Dream was a breath of fresh air and felt like a proverbial spark.

“We knew it was gonna happen, but today was the most important time it could happen,” said Smith. “When we play our best basketball, we can get results like this, and that’s wins. If we can keep clicking like this together, we’re gonna be amazing.”