They say all good things must come to an end, and so it was that the Connecticut Sun’s home court victory parade ended at seven straight on Tuesday night when the Indiana Fever came to town and layed a hurtin’ on the Sun, 69-58, before a disappointing crowd of 6,329 at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The two teams entered the contest in a virtual dead heat at the top of the pack in the ultra-competitive WNBA Eastern Conference, with the Sun leading by percentage points. But after a night in which the Sun played as if they were the Tea Party caucus and the basket was John Boehner, Indiana handed Connecticut its first home loss of the season, and left Dodge with a one-game advantage.
The Fever were playing without the services of their leading scorer, former Sun star Katie Douglas, who remained home in Indianapolis with, no pun intended, a fever.
A tough loss, for sure. But that tends to happen when you play the entire game as if you’re allergic to nylon netting.
Case in point: The Sun had made just one of their first 10 shots from the field, yet after Tina Charles hit 1-of-2 free throws, Connecticut trailed by just one point, 4-3 with 4:39 remaining in the first quarter. Then, about two minutes later, after Charles banked in a layup (the next two points in the game), the Sun led 5-4.
But two free throws from Renee Montgomery and a layup by Danielle McCray with 4.9 seconds left were all the points the Sun could muster for the rest of the quarter as the Fever led at the first pole, 14-9.
And then it got worse. The Sun went scoreless from the field for the first six minutes of the second stanza, and trailed 26-11 until Renee Montgomery broke the drought with a layup at the 5:59 mark. A three-pointer by Tamika Catchings, who scored a game-high 16 points, gave Indiana its biggest lead of the game, 34-17, with 2:24 remaining until intermission. Connecticut then managed to score the last eight points of the half, and the first four of the second half, to cut the Indiana margin to five, 34-29, just over a minute into the third period.
Somehow, without being able to hit the broadside of a barn, Connecticut was right there with most of the second half left to be played. But the Sun could get no closer in the third frame, and trailed by six, 53-47, heading into the home stretch.
The Sun managed to cut the Fever lead to four twice in the fourth quarter, but Indiana always had an answer, and held on for an exceedingly ugly 69-58 win.
For the game, Connecticut shot 30.6 percent from the field (22-for-72), including an atrocious 1-for-16 from beyond the three-point arc. And, as has been the case in many of the Sun’s losses this year, difference came down to the bench as Indiana’s subs outscored the Connecticut reserves 31-18. The Sun did manage to haul down 39 rebounds—their best effort off the glass this season—and held the Fever to 32.8 percent shooting from the field (22-for-67). But the defensive effort was offset by Indiana’s play in the paint: 48 boards, including 37 off the defensive glass.
For fans looking for some sort of silver lining, Charles put up another double-double (13 points, 10 boards), and Montgomery once again scored in double digits (10 points), while McCray had a near Double-D (nine points, seven boards) in just 18 and a-half minutes of play.
Besides Catchings’ 16-point effort, three other Indiana players scored in double digits: Shannon Bobbit with 13 and Jeanette Pohlen, who started in place of Douglas, and Jessica Davenport, who put up 10 points apiece. In addition, Davenport hauled down 10 rebounds off the bench.
With the win, the Fever improve to 12-6 and move one game up on the Sun in the WNBA Eastern Division race. The two top teams are tied in the loss column. However, the Sun have two games in-hand, meaning that unless the Fever win both of those games, the Sun would move ahead of Indiana in the standings.
And if that’s not confusing enough, the New York Liberty are just a half game in back of the Sun in third place. The Sun, however, lead by one game in the loss column. The Liberty own a game in-hand in that race, meaning the Sun must win the extra game, or New York and Connecticut will be in a flat-footed tie.
Have I lost you yet? No matter, since the season is only at the halfway mark, and the log jam at the top of the Eastern Conference will likely remain until the postseason seeds shake out. However, with the win Tuesday night, Indiana clinches the season series between the teams—a pivotal factor should they be deadlocked for playoff positioning at the end of the year. The Fever now lead the Sun three games to one with just one game left between the two rivals
“I don’t think we can shoot any worse than [we did],” said a bemused Mike Thibault of his team’s horrific offensive display. “We wasted a really good defensive effort. We had an opportunity. Indiana was missing their leading scorer. I thought we played terrific defense but we couldn’t make a shot to save our life.
“When our four leading scorers go a combined 12 for 47, you just don’t win. It’s that simple.”
As the fans left the arena, the speakers were wailing “Bittersweet Symphony,” the melancholy ’90s classic by The Verve, perfectly capturing the mood of the Sun faithful who had known nothing but victory up to this point in the 2011 season. Now, they were vulnerable—even at home; and especially to their No. 1 rivals.
Next up for the Sun will be a home date on Sunday with the 8-9 Atlanta Dream who play nearly as well on the road (3-4) as they do at home (5-5). The Dream are the WNBA’s hottest team, riding a five-game winning streak, and have matched the Sun in their last 10 games (6-4). Tip-off will be at 5 p.m.
After that, the Sun embark on a week-long West Coast swing which will take them to Seattle, Los Angeles and Phoenix before returning to Uncasville on Aug. 7 to entertain the Chicago Sky. All three West Coast games will be televised nationally on NBA-TV.