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Fever coach Christie Sides remains silent on lineup change in loss to bottom-place Mystics

Fever coach Christie Sides remains silent on lineup change in loss to bottom-place Mystics

INDIANAPOLIS — Just days after the Indiana Fever’s best win of the 2024 season against the league-best New York Liberty, the Fever fell short at home against the Washington Mystics. Three passive quarters to start Wednesday morning set the stage for the Fever’s spirited comeback. It was all for naught in the final 89-84 loss inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Indiana trailed by 21 points entering the final quarter.

Fever head coach Christie Sides made a change to the starting lineup Wednesday, giving third-year guard Lexie Hull her first start of the season in place of regular NaLyssa Smith. That left Caitlin Clark, Kelsey Mitchell, Hull, Katie Lou Samuelson and Aliyah Boston. There were hints of the change during Tuesday’s practice, given the colorful jerseys each player wore.

Sides was asked about it before the game and said they’re going to play with what they need right now. Despite the more defensive move to insert Hull into the lineup, the Fever gave up 51 points in the first half. That’s the second-most points Washington has scored this season. Hull played eight minutes in the first half and 12 in the second. Smith played 12 and 14, respectively.

“I don’t think it had an impact on the whole game,” Sides said afterwards. “It was the coach’s decision and I’ll stick with that.”

Sides was asked about this once again.

“It was just a decision from the coach and that’s where we’ll leave it.”

Before Wednesday, the new starting lineup had played nine minutes together all season, with a +/- of -13.

A single change alters Fever’s entire starting lineup

While on paper Hull replaced Smith with Samuelson, it’s fair to say that he replaced Smith. Samuelson has been at the 3 lately and was moved to the 4 on Wednesday for size reasons. Smith’s role, who has typically been the most dynamic option next to Boston in the post, has been crucial when Boston has gotten into foul trouble.

“The biggest thing is defense,” Samuelson said of moving from the 3 to the 4. “Just knowing how to defend, knowing our schemes, to be honest, making sure I know all the plays and all the positions. I think for me, I just try to be myself, but in every role that I’m given.”

After the best win of the season, the controversy can be felt. It is not known if Sides has thought about this decision for some time. She could very well have done it and the Fever could have practiced doing it. But if it had been more impromptu because Hull had a great fourth quarter in the win over New York last Saturday, there was a day left to practice before playing the Mystics.

The Fever are still young and Sides has rotated through many different starting lineups.

“Yeah, you have to follow what coach gives you,” said Clark, the point guard. “I trust my teammates. No matter who’s on the floor, you have to fight as hard as you can… I think collectively we could have worked a little better together from a defensive scheme standpoint… we didn’t really perform defensively or offensively until we got to the fourth quarter.”

Caitlin Clark racks up stats, but Aliyah Boston stays silent

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) talks with an official Wednesday, July 10, 2024, during the game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Mystics defeated the Fever, 89-84.
Grace Smith/IndyStar/USA TODAY NETWORK

Clark’s career high is 30 points at Washington in June, where she tied the rookie record with seven 3-pointers. The Fever had beaten the Mystics in the previous two meetings this season. On Wednesday, Clark scored 29 points, had 13 assists, made five 3-pointers and also had five steals and three blocks. Her hands were everywhere, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse her defense. The Fever got burned by the Mystic guards’ backcourt cuts in the first quarter.

In Saturday’s win over the Liberty, Boston was incredibly efficient, making eight of 12 shots. Boston scored just six points Wednesday and attempted four shots, the second-fewest of her season. She turned the ball over five times, which explained the lack of shots and didn’t help her find her rhythm. She was also one of three Fever players with five personal fouls.

Boston has been a go-to option recently as the Fever feed off the post, but not on Wednesday.

“She only played 20 minutes, right,” Sides said. “She got in foul trouble early on. We’re trying to get her the ball. I thought (the Mystics’ Stefanie Dolson) did a good job of making it hard for her. We had a lot of turnovers trying to get the ball.” ball in a high-low situation… we will always seek to play from the inside out and get AB keys and get (Smith) keys.”

The Fever, now 9-14, will look for a redemption win Friday at home against the Phoenix Mercury. The Fever came back from a double-digit loss to the Mercury on June 30.