INDIANAPOLIS – The visiting Phoenix Mercury scored early and often and survived a monster comeback against the Fever on Sunday afternoon, defeating Indiana 94-87. Phoenix had four players score more than 16 points in a game that was Indiana’s first home loss of the season.
“I think we dug a 10-foot hole and had a 9 foot ladder,” said Fever head coach Pokey Chatman, whose team cut a 28-point deficit to just 7 in the fourth quarter. “But I will say that I was pleased with the effort. The second unit, who doesn’t really get extended minutes together had to figure some things out. They maintained their defensive energy and held them to 16 points in the fourth. That’s the positive we’re gonna build on.”
Griner led the way for Phoenix, as the 6-foot, 9-inch center poured in 26 points, doing damage inside for the visitors. DeWanna Bonner continued her strong start to 2019 with 25 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Leilani Mitchell added 17 points and six assists off the bench for the Mercury.
Phoenix guard Briann January, who was honored before the game as a member as the Fever 20th Anniversary Team, chipped in 16 points in the win.
Kelsey Mitchell was the lone Indiana starter in double figures, erupting for 26 points including 4-8 from beyond the arc and six assists. Rookie guard Kennedy Burke poured in a career high 18 on 7-8 from the field.
“It comes from never giving up,” said Burke who was key part in trimming the 28-point deficit to single digits. “It came from not looking at the scoreboard and just realizing we could make a comeback no matter what.’
Tiffany Mitchell also scored 17 and had six assists off the bench for Indiana.
The Mercury defense frustrated Indiana early on, holding the Fever to just 12 first quarter points, shooting just 5-18 from the field. Griner was a force inside for the visitors early scoring 10 of the Mercury’s first 14 points from the post and in the pick and roll to give Phoenix an early 14-7 advantage to start the game.
Bonner, who came ranked 2nd the WNBA scoring with 22.7 points a game, also added seven points in the opening quarter to propel the visitors to a 22-12 lead to end the first.
Kelsey Mitchell opened the second quarter with a layup and the foul, cutting the deficit to just seven before Leilani scored five quick points off the bench to restore Phoenix’s double-digit lead. Indiana looked to make a run, as Burke scored nine straight for the Fever, only to be answered by the veteran January who countered with nine straight of her own for Phoenix.
“She’s what this league is becoming,” said Chatman of Burke’s big night. “She’s long, she’s athletic, she’s fast and quick. She can score it. She’s a gamer and we’re excited that someone like Kennedy was available because she’s gonna help us become a good basketball team.”
Phoenix outscored Indiana 31-16 in the second quarter. The Mercury took a 53-28 lead into the break as four players, Griner, January, Bonner, and Mitchell all scored in double figures in the first half.
Indiana showed resiliency to start the second half, as Erica Wheeler hit two layups as part of the Fever’s seven quick points to open the third. The Fever went on to outscore their opponents, 26-25 in the third quarter, but did little to cut the deficit as the Mercury led 78-54 to end the third.
The Fever made a run late in the fourth, outscoring their opponents 33-16 in the final frame and cutting the deficit to as few as seven on a Kelsey Mitchell three-pointer, 92-85, but time was not on Indiana’s side as Phoenix kept their lead until the final buzzer.
“Our pacing was what separated us in the first and second half,” said second-year guard Kelsey Mitchell. “Our veteran group pushed it in the third quarter, it didn’t really show but our pace was so much better. That’s what got us going late.”
The Fever will finish up their four game homestand with a visit from the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm on Tuesday night.
After a tough loss to the Phoenix Mercury, Kennedy Burke spoke about bringing more to the defensive end and communication for upcoming games.