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Aliyah Boston, Grace Berger are key to Indiana Fever rebuild

(Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

Aliyah Boston took two dribbles. She pivoted. She pivoted again. Then, finding a sliver of space, she stepped through and scored.

The intricate move looked like the footwork of a WNBA veteran, not a rookie playing in her fourth professional game. But Boston isn’t like most rookies. She isn’t like most players.

She’s the kind of player that can go up against 2022 Sixth Woman of the Year Brionna Jones and execute a patient, high-level move to score. The kind of player that, so far, has replicated her efficient shooting numbers from college against the top basketball players in the world.

Through four games, Boston is averaging 15.8 points on 66.7% shooting.

“Aliyah is special, man,” Indiana Fever coach Christie Sides said Tuesday.

It’s why the Fever selected her first in the 2023 draft, and why Boston is going to be a key part of Indiana’s growth as the team looks to improve on last season’s 5-31 record.

And it’s not just Boston. The Fever have a core of young stars, including second-year player NaLyssa Smith, who is averaging 14.8 points and 12.0 rebounds through the first four games of the season.

Boston and Smith make for a dynamic duo in the frontcourt. They helped Indiana snap a 20-game losing streak with a 90-87 victory over the Atlanta Dream on Sunday. Then they led the way as the team took the Connecticut Sun to the brink on Tuesday in an 81-78 loss.

Against Atlanta, Smith had 23 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists, and Boston finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds. In the loss to the Sun, Smith once again recorded a double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds, while Boston had a season-high 20 points.

The two are learning to lean on each other, and their on-court chemistry is already strong.

“Having someone you can rely on for big buckets at the end of the game, that’s huge,” Smith said. “The more we gel, and the more we play together, it will be harder to guard us and stop us.”

Following the loss to Connecticut, sitting side by side, Smith and Boston remained in good spirits. Playing the Sun so closely, just days after their first win against Atlanta, felt like a big step.

“Just based off us playing them our very first game to now, I think there was a lot of improvement,” Boston said, referencing the Fever’s 70-61 opening day loss to the Sun. “So it feels good. I mean, it would feel better if we came out with a dub, but we look at what we need to improve on and see the areas where we did well.”

Sides agrees with her players. This could be a turning point for the Fever, she said, but they have to keep executing and improving every day.

In her first season as head coach, Sides has the tough task of building up a team that went a combined 17-73 over the last three seasons. Before topping the Dream, Indiana had tied for the longest losing streak in WNBA history.

But Sides, who spent 2022 as an assistant with Atlanta, likes the pieces she has – young players like Boston, Smith, Queen Egbo, Lexie Hull and Grace Berger, plus veterans like Kelsey Mitchell and Erica Wheeler.

Berger also was selected in the 2023 draft at No. 7 overall, and Sides sees her as a key component to the Fever’s future. The Indiana graduate played six minutes in the first half against the Sun, running the offense and recording a bucket on a hesitation blow-by.

“She’s going to be a good player,” Sides said. “But with rookies it just takes time. I have all the confidence in Grace when she goes in. She is going to keep getting better and getting more minutes.”

Rebuilding the franchise is no easy feat, but it’s one with a clear blueprint. Every game, every practice, every individual workout is a step in the right direction.

“We just go to work,” Sides said. “We stop talking, and we teach, and we go to work. That’s all we can do. And they’ve got to get the experience.”

Tuesday’s game was yet another experience the team needed: A close loss. The Fever kept within striking distance throughout the game, never letting the Sun pull away. It allowed them to have the final possession, down 3, with a chance to go to overtime.

Hull missed the shot, but the play was well-executed, Sides said. That’s something she’s seen major growth on over the first four games. When Sides calls a timeout, the Fever do exactly what she asks when they go back on the court.

That seems like a small thing, but the learning process is about taking those small things and building on them.

“When you’ve lost as much as some of these players have, you have to teach them how to win again,” Sides said. “You have to learn to win. There is a way to win. You have to have a sense of urgency, fight from the beginning, execute, do the little things … So that is what we are working on every day, and they are putting in the work.”