INDIANAPOLIS – Fresh off being named WNBA All-Star Game MVP, Erica Wheeler hit a game-winning layup in the final seconds to boost the Fever to a 61-59 win over the Atlanta Dream on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
After Indiana led 49-42 at the end of the third quarter, the Dream pushed the Fever and back-to-back 3-pointers by Alex Bentley and Nia Coffey gave the Dream their first lead of the second half, 55-54.
Atlanta extended their lead to 59-54 as Bentley, an Indianapolis native from Ben Davis High School, scored the ball inside with a layup. The Fever continued being aggressive though, as Wheeler, Candice Dupree, and Teaira McCowan all scored from the free throw line and tied the game at 59.
With just 11 seconds remaining, Wheeler drove to the rim for a layup that gave the Fever a two-point lead. Shot attempts from Williams and Tiffany Hayes fell short in the final seconds as the Fever held on for the win at home.
“We wanted to run a play to get it into the middle of the floor,” said Fever head coach Pokey Chatman. “They were trying to trap on the side, and we knew they would have to stay solid. We wanted to go with 10 seconds left to not give them too much time… I think [we] played off of each other and [Wheeler] got the bucket.”
It was the Fever’s only bucket of the quarter, using 10-of-15 free-throw shooting in the period to offset 1-of-11 marksmanship from the field.
Wheeler shot 6-of-12 overall to lead the way for Indiana, scoring 15 points and swiping a career-high five steals in the win.
“Like I tell everybody, it’s a wave,” said Wheeler. “The world is watching me so that means the world is watching my team. So, it’s our wave. It’s not about me – I know everybody is talking to me – but it’s about my team. I came back to do my job and win games with my team.”
Indiana’s second All-Star, Dupree, added 12 points and five boards.
“It’s huge. It has been awhile since we have won… like early July,” said Dupree. “We’re finally able to close out a close game, we got over the hump and stayed together.”
Elizabeth Williams paced the Dream, scoring a game high 17 points while grabbing seven rebounds. Guard Tiffany Hayes added 10 points and three steals.
A 3-pointer by Renee Montgomery gave the visiting Dream an early 7-2 lead to open the game. Atlanta maintained their lead during much of the first quarter until Natalie Achonwa got the bucket and the foul inside, completing the three-point play and giving the Fever a 13-11 lead to end the first.
Both teams struggled from the field early in their first action after the All-Star break. Indiana shot 4-for-16 from the field in the opening quarter, while Atlanta shot just 4-for-21.
Bentley helped restore Atlanta’s lead to start the second, as the 5-foot, 7-inch guard came off the bench with a quick five points to give Atlanta a 16-15 lead.
Bentley finished the game with 12 points for Atlanta.
McCowan had strong first half for the Fever, as the rookie grabbed an offensive rebound and finished the basket inside to give Indiana a 25-22 lead late in the second. McCowan corralled nine rebounds in the first half off the bench for Indiana.
McCowan finished the game with 10 points and 14 rebounds, notching the fifth double-double of her rookie season.
Betnijah Laney canned a pair of free throws in the final seconds of the first half to give Indiana a 32-25 lead, their largest of the first half, heading into the break.
Indiana blitzed Atlanta to start the third. Dupree hit a pair of jumpers, while Achonwa and Wheeler scored inside as part of an 8-2 run that extended the Indiana lead to 40-27.
Atlanta spent the rest of the third trying to chip into the double-digit deficit, as Williams scored 11 in the quarter to lead Atlanta. Despite the outburst by Williams, Indiana took a 49-42 lead into the fourth quarter.
The win breaks a six-game skid overall for the Fever, as well as ending an eight-game home losing streak.
“It took all of us,” said Chatman. “People will say it was ugly, but a W is beautiful.”
The Fever return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday night for matchup with Minnesota.