Indianapolis — The Indiana Fever suffered their first home loss of the season to the Phoenix Mercury in overtime on Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 98-90. Indiana couldn’t find an answer for Phoenix’s Brittney Griner, who led the game with a career-high 38 points on 15-for-19 shooting and nine rebounds.
“What can you say?” said Mercury guard Diana Taurasi. “BG (Griner) was just a monster tonight. That’s pretty much what she’s been doing all year. I think tonight she showed she’s next level right now.”
The Fever also shot a season-high 38 free throws and connected on 36 (94.7 percent), marking the second-highest made free throws in franchise history.
Despite outrebounding the Griner-led Mercury, 32-31, Indiana committed 21 turnovers leading to 33 Phoenix points.
“I think our defense was on point,” said Fever guard Erica Wheeler. “We did some good things. It was just turnovers down the stretch.”
Indiana’s starting point guard Briann January suffered a left ankle injury early in the first quarter and did not return. Wheeler scored seven of Indiana’s first 13 points in January’s absence, setting the stage for a career-high 24 points for the second-year guard. She also played a career-high 42 minutes.
Candice Dupree added a season-high 23 points and six rebounds in her first 20-plus game in a Fever uniform. Tiffany Mitchell added 14 points for Indiana, as well.
Diana Taurasi added 17 points and six assists for Phoenix and is now just 56 points from becoming the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer.
“You know you have a tough team in the Fever that play really well at home,” said Taurasi. “They’re 3-0 at home. It took a little bit from everyone tonight.”
Indiana’s largest lead was a 21-14 advantage to start the second quarter before a 14-5 Mercury run. Griner was a first-half force for Phoenix in the paint, scoring 23 of her 38 points and grabbing five rebounds. Indiana was outscored 26-12 in the second quarter on the way to a 40-33 halftime deficit.
“We started kind of rocky, but that second quarter we kind of took over and played really good defense,” said Griner.
The Fever hung within five throughout the second half behind an 18-for-19 third period from the free throw line. Indiana made its first 24 free throws in the contest and held Griner to just four points in the third quarter.
Phoenix held a five-point cushion through much of the fourth despite a scoring spree from Dupree. After drawing the fifth foul on Griner, Erlana Larkins immediately attacked the rim to bring Indiana within one possession (68-66) under five minutes to play. A Shenise Johnson jumper tied the game before Dupree free throws gave Indiana its first lead (72-71) since early in the second quarter.
Tied 76-76 with 45 seconds to play, Taurasi found Griner on the baseline for a 10-foot jump hook, giving her 30 for the game and a two-point Mercury lead. Wheeler responded with a set of crossovers to find a right-handed layup with 28.6 seconds remaining.
A Taurasi triple fell short to the hands of Dupree in Phoenix’s last possession. Fever head coach Pokey Chatman called timeout with 12.3 seconds on the clock to set up Indiana’s final play; a missed jumper from Wheeler at the top of the key resulting in overtime at 78-all.
“We had an opportunity in regulation to win it,” said Chatman. “I talked to the team about continuing to battle. It wasn’t pretty. We managed to be aggressive late in the game, but it wasn’t enough.”
After being held to just seven points in the second half, Griner regained control in the overtime period with eight of the Mercury’s 20 points, including the first six of the overtime period. A 7-0 Phoenix run early in overtime sealed the deal as the Phoenix never trailed in the extra session.