In its first game since its 16-game winning streak was snapped in Minnesota, the Phoenix Mercury (23-4) scored 12 consecutively to break a fourth quarter tie and defeat the Indiana Fever, 79-69, Saturday night at US Airways Center.
Indiana (13-15) scored the first six of the fourth to take a 62-60 edge before Penny Taylor would tie it at 63-63 with five and a half left. DeWanna Bonner gave Phoenix the lead a minute later, Diana Taurasi iced two free throws, Erlana Larkins gave the ball back to the Mercury with an offensive foul, and Taurasi calmly sailed in a three out of the timeout to put away the game.
“What I like is they responded,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “We know that wasn’t our best game, it was everyone collectively picking up their intensity.”
The first quarter featured six ties, but the Mercury was still able to find a seven-point lead on a Bonner jumper with two minutes left. The Fever scored six of the last seven to cut the gap to 23-31, despite Brittney Griner already being at nine points.
Fever guard Shanvonte Zellous scored nine of her 14 in the second quarter, but the Mercury led 47-42 at halftime, capitalized with a Taurasi three with 12 seconds that answered one from Briann January one possession prior.
Griner finished with a game-high 17 points, 15 came from Taurasi, 14 from Bonner, and Mistie Bass collected eight rebounds off the glass for the Mercury.
“We had trouble for most of the game getting them off the boards,” Taurasi said. “They’re a physical team, they’re big. You know, it took that long, and I’m just happy we won.”
In her return to Phoenix, former Mercury center Krystal Thomas recorded season-highs with 10 points and seven rebounds in her third start of the campaign.
“We just battled for pretty much the whole game, but we missed some open shots we needed to make to win,” Thomas said. “I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team, go out there and get the start and be ready. It’s a little different (to play opposite of Griner), but it’s a great challenge to play against a player like her during a game.”
Marissa Coleman also scored 12 for the Fever, January added 11, and Larkins grabbed 13 rebounds.
“We put ourselves in a position to win against the best team in the league,” said Fever coach Lin Dunn, who was honored before the game with her retirement approaching at the end of the season. “I thought Krystal did a great job, it wasn’t about our defense, it was our offense not hitting open shots, I’d love to play them again…………in the Finals.”
It was one of the rougher nights for future Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings, going 0-for-10 from the field, with eight points off free throws and seven boards.
“They’re solid at every position,” Catchings said of the Mercury, “the first starting five and even coming off the bench. I’m proud of our team of everybody that played, knowing that this is the best team in the league, when you go up against a team like that, you get up to play just to see where you stand, it didn’t turn out on our side, but we battled.”
The Mercury’s next game will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Eastern Conference leader Atlanta. The Fever hosts Minnesota the same night.