INDIANAPOLIS — The 2022 and 2023 WNBA No. 1 overall picks were locked in shot-for-shot Thursday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. The Indiana Fever’s Aliyah Boston began the duel under the basket. The Atlanta Dream’s Rhyne Howard responded on the other end, 24 feet out. Boston got another layup. Howard splashed once more beyond the arc to tie it with four minutes to go. 

The Fever’s once-18-point lead was gone. But that didn’t matter. Boston had the last laugh with only 23 seconds left, scoring out of the Fever’s timeout to put them up by five. That and Kelsey Mitchell’s clutch free throws iced the 91-84 win. Fever head coach Christie Sides happily went hysterical on the bench after the Boston basket. It was the Fever post’s 26th and 27th points. 

Boston blazed to tie her career-high in points. Her 17 first-half points also matched her career high. And Boston snagged 13 rebounds. The 27 points and 13 boards were both season-high’s and 10 more points than she’s scored in any of the Fever’s past 13 games. Mitchell assisted in the win with 24 points and drained clutch 3-pointers. But Boston, the go-to in the fourth, carried. 

“In the fourth quarter I just put emphasis on it to be dominant,” Boston said afterward. “I’ve been needing one like this, where I feel like I’m dominant and I’m getting to my spots. So I’m really glad to have my teammates out there that trusted me, gave me the ball, and trusted me to make the shot.” 

Lead up to Aliyah Boston's breakout performance

Indiana Fever forward Aliyah Boston (7) rushes up the court against Atlanta Dream forward Cheyenne Parker-Tyus (32) on Thursday, June 13, 2024, during the game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Boston seemed due for this at some point. The Fever sophomore posted nine 20-point games in last year’s 40-game season. Boston’s best up until the Fever’s 14th contest this season was 17 points on two occasions. Caitlin Clark and others joined the roster, which did bring shifts to the offense. Maybe that’s why it took longer for the 2023 Rookie of the Year to get back into form. 

Sides needed Boston to get her confidence up. 

So, in the team’s blowout loss at the Connecticut Sun last Monday night, Sides benched four starters midway through the third quarter, yet kept Aliyah Boston on the floor. Boston ended with 14 points and 12 rebounds. The reps versus the league’s best squad persisted through the week. 

“The other night against Connecticut, I just needed her to get some confidence,” Sides said. “Because that’s what she was missing. She’s so hard on herself. And she did that. She had a good practice yesterday — we had a good shootaround today. We went more live in our shootaround today and she just carried that over. I’m so proud of her for that tonight.” 

Can Boston, Fever's play be sustained? 

That’s been the question of the season. 

Like how when the Fever played at the Washington Mystics three games ago, they really had to beat Atlanta. If Indiana hadn’t, it’d decline to 3-11 so far this season and the future would look bleak. But the win also doesn’t show much going forward — yet. The Dream are slumping. The Fever’s level of play and their comeback has merit, but that’s yet to be replicated over the best. 

The Fever don’t have any true marquee wins. Boston’s play and the play of the Fever wholly has been decent-to-solid versus league powerhouses (which all have really good post players to try to counter Boston). They’ve never been able to break out over the New York Liberty, Connecticut Sun, Seattle Storm and the Las Vegas Aces. Kelsey Mitchell has played more than par in those matchups too, but it’ll take more than just any two given players. 

Take Thursday for instance: Boston’s 27 points and late dominance, Mitchell’s 24 points and clutch shots, Katie Lou Sameulson’s dagger 3-pointers on her birthday, and Clark’s six assists despite only seven points and turnovers. It’ll take everyone on the Fever to beat the best teams. 

“I think we all individually took a look in the mirror about what we can be better at,” Mitchell said about the days after the Sun defeat. “We had to take a long look on Monday night and I think it kind put in perspective where we need to be better for today… I think we saw a different group.” 

The Fever — now up to 4-10 — will host the Chicago Sky Sunday afternoon.