By Dylan St. Clair
INDIANAPOLIS- Boasting an 18-12 record and setting a WNBA record for most consecutive playoff berths with 11, one might forget that the Indiana Fever are led by a first-year coach. Stephanie White, who has been a part of the Fever organization since 2011, is boasting a winning record in her first season with the reins, a feat Indiana hasn’t seen since winning the title in 2012. And it comes with the new-look Fever that White has talked about since opening day.
“The game is changing,” White said before Tuesday’s game against the Connecticut Sun. “We’ve struggled on the floor offensive end of the floor over the last few years. A free flowing, more up-tempo offense really fit the type of roster we have. We wanted to be able play to our players’ strengths and I feel like it would allow us to do that.”
And looking at the numbers, it’s apparent that it was the right call. 30 games in, the Fever are the second in the league in point per game with 78.3, which is four more points in 2014 (74.15) and over 7.5 more than 2013’s 70.82 ppg.
But is the defense that Indiana’s held onto so proudly diminished with the rise in offense? Short-term (as in comparing with last season) the answer is no. The difference between the two is less than a point per game allowed (75.9 points allowed this year, 75.12 last).
“It’s helped us take a little bit of pressure off of our defensive,” White said about both sides of the floor. “Defense is how we have to win games, but at the same time, we’re allowing ourselves a little leeway because we’re scoring as well.
The transition from a defensive to offensive mindset wasn’t the quickest or easiest early on, as the Fever dropped six of their first nine games.
“Part of it was a difficult transition, part of it was that we had a lot of injuries,” White said about the beginning of the season. “Part of it was that I’m a new coach and new expectations. We have our same core values, but everything is different. With implementing new players, players who are taking on greater roles, a new system. All of those things, along with our injuries factor in to us starting slow.”
And all of this showed in Tuesday’s 81-51 blowout win over Connecticut. Not only did Indiana break 80 points for the thirteenth time this season, but the 30-point win was the largest of the season. And with their scoring, they brought defense to the table. The Fever held the Sun to 15 points in the first half, the second-fewest allowed in a half in franchise history. Connecticut was held to shooting 33 percent and just under 18 percent from three. And Indiana forced 17 turnovers for 15 points.
“This a ‘lay the foundation’ year for us,” White said about what this year is all about. “It’s not about how many games we win, how many games we lose. It’s about laying the foundation for what we’re going to be in the future, laying down the foundation for other players on this team to step up when Tamika [Catchings] retires, laying the foundation of how we want to play. My emphasis to our team is that every day we have an opportunity to get better. I want to see continual growth and improvement from our team every single day. This year, for me, I’m not looking at stats. I’m not looking at numbers. I’m not looking at winning and losing because if you do those things every single day to improve, the wins and losses take care of themselves.”
Just four games remain as the Fever either rest up and work to have all twelve players ready for the postseason or they take the chance at winning out and grabbing a higher spot in the standings (currently they sit at the third seed in the East). Their next game is on the road at the Western Conference leading Minnesota Lynx. Tipoff is at 8:00 p.m.