WNBA: Indiana Fever's losing skid reaches seven, fall to Sun

Indiana Fever drop must-win game for seventh loss in a row; playoff hopes are fading

Akeem Glaspie
Indianapolis Star

Three seasons have passed since the Indiana Fever have qualified for the postseason, and without the help of the Dallas Wings, the Fever will be headed to a fourth consecutive year outside the playoffs. 

DeWanna Bonner's 13-point third quarter led the Connecticut Sun to a 96-77 win over the Fever on Saturday. The loss is the Fever's seventh in a row. They've dropped to a game and a half behind Dallas for the eighth and final playoff spot with three games remaining. 

Indiana Fever's Tiffany Mitchell (25) drives past Connecticut Sun's DeWanna Bonner (24) during the first half of a WNBA basketball game Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The Wings own the tiebreaker over the Fever and have four games remaining.  

A lot has changed within the franchise over the past four seasons, most notably Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings' retirement and subsequent move to the front office. 

Indiana hasn't made the playoffs since Catchings retired, but this version of the Fever is missing more than just one star player. 

Granted, the Fever were dealt a number of tough blows before they arrived at the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, from their All-Star point guard Erica Wheeler and first-round draft pick Lauren Cox contracting COVID-19, to dealing with a rash of injuries and arriving to the wubble late, costing them several crucial days of practice. 

There's no one reason why they've won just five of 19 games this season, yet somethings that never lacked during Catchings' days in Indiana were passion and pride. 

Over the past seven games the Fever have lost by an average of 15 points. They've trailed at halftime in every game during the skid, and they've been down by double digits at halftime four out of seven games. 

The Fever seem to lack energy at times, and that translates to slow starts, long scoring droughts and sloppy play. 

Connecticut jumped out to a 12-2 lead five minutes into the first quarter. Against the Mercury on Thursday, the Fever trailed by double digits less than 90 seconds into the game. 

The lacking sense of urgency belies a team fighting for its postseason life. 

"We just need to play with a little bit more pride and passion about our defense and basically everything we do," coach Marianne Stanley said. "Today we were in the game for a while and then all of a sudden couple mistakes happen and we got frustrated, and we can't let frustration carry over into our playing."

The Fever rank last in defensive rating (112), and allow a league-worst 89.7 points per game. At times players hit tough contested shots over out-stretched arms, but most teams look to beat Indiana in transition for easy layups or attack their post players off the dribble. 

Indiana's inefficient offense contributes to its poor defense as well. The Sun turned 19 turnovers into 23 points. They led the Fever 47-37 at halftime. 

Kelsey Mitchell's 3-pointer followed by a Natalie Achonwa jumper cut their deficit to seven. After a 10-4 Connecticut run, Achonwa and Candice Dupree's baskets brought the Fever within nine. 

The Sun responded again, however, using a 13-3 run to pull away. Bonner led the Sun with 26 points. She had 28 points in her first meeting with Indiana. Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones added 20 points each. 

Kelsey Mitchell led Indiana with 16 points. Teaira McCowan added 15 points and seven rebounds. 

It's easy for a struggling team to feel like everything is going wrong during an extended slump and compound one error with another. The Fever viewed this game as a must-win but they did not play like a team worthy of the playoffs. 

Mitchell said they've got to play harder and do a better job of turning the page on mistakes. 

"I just think teams are playing harder than us," Mitchell said. "I hate to make it sound that simple and that bunk, but people are just playing harder than us so typically when that happens, we just kind of get down in the dumps and puts us down on the scoreboard."

Follow IndyStar sports producer Akeem Glaspie on Twitter at @THEAkeemGlaspie.