INDIANAPOLIS – Chelsea Gray scored 20 points in the third quarter to give Los Angeles a lead they did not relinquish in an 87-83 win over the Fever at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday.
After leading by as many as 13 in the first half, the Fever succumbed to a 33-20 Sparks third quarter, as Gray’s heroics proved to be too much for the Fever to overcome. Gray scored just six points in the first half before exploding in the third, including 5-for-6 from three, tying a WNBA record for made threes in a quarter. The explosion catapulted the Sparks into their first lead, 61-60.
“Their 10-2 run in about two minutes to start the third quarter was a seismic shift,” said Fever head coach Pokey Chatman. “Gray was 7-for-9 from three. We have watched her make contested threes, so we knew we had to run her off the line. Easier said than done, but she’s a great player. I credit her for the tough ones, but I know for a fact three (of the seven three-point makes) were mistakes by us.”
Gray paced Los Angeles with a career high 30 points and nine assists. Nneka Ogwumike chipped in 20 points and eight rebounds for the visitors, while Riquna Williams added 15 in the win.
Teaira McCowan led the Fever, as the rookie scored 24 points and corralled 10 rebounds. McCowan has now scored 20+ in three straight games, tying Tamika Catching’s streak from 2011. Her third straight double-double also ties a Fever franchise record.
“I feel like, as a rookie, I am doing a lot of things,” said McCowan. “Trying to give me team the confidence that we’ve been missing most of the season. It’s close games like tonight where we just couldn’t turn the page. We’ll get it together. This was another year of growth for us.”
Candice Dupree contributed across the board with 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists while playing all 40 minutes.
Indiana and Los Angeles traded buckets early on. A Dupree lob to McCowan gave the Fever an early 4-0 lead. The Sparks quickly knotted the score, as the first Gray three-pointer knotted things at 7.
Indiana took the lead, getting to the free throw line and hitting 9-for-12 from the charity stripe in the first, leading by as many as eight, 17-9.
Indiana shot 29-for-36 from the free throw line for the game, attempting 27 more than Los Angeles. The free throw differential is the largest in the WNBA since 2015.
Sydney Wiese checked into the game and scored five quick points for Los Angeles to cut the Fever lead to 20-16 at the end of one.
Indiana’s aggression continued into the second, as five straight points by Kelsey Mitchell and a McCowan put back elevated the Fever to their largest lead of the night, a 13-point advantage, 36-23. The Sparks then went on an 10-2 run late in the second quarter to cut into the Fever lead, 38-33.
Mitchell finished the game with 16 points, six rebounds, and five assists for the Fever.
Stephanie Mavunga hit a fade from the post and Dupree hit a deeper jumper to give Indiana a 42-33 heading into the half time break.
The explosive third quarter by Gray and the Sparks gave them a 66-62 advantage at the end of third.
“The third quarter is ultimately what killed us,” said Dupree. “Gray went off to start the second half. Our schemes weren’t being run the way we wanted them to defensively. The lack of communication, it’s gotta be a team effort. It’s hard to slow her down when she gets going.”
Los Angeles grew their lead early in the fourth quarter. A 7-0 run to start the period by Williams and Kalani Brown expanded the advantage to double digits, 73-62. Indiana closed in throughout the period, even cutting the LA lead to as few as two, 85-83, on a pair of Kelsey Mitchell free throws.
Gray played the villain again, hitting a jumper in the final seconds to give Los Angeles an 87-83 lead.
With the loss, Indiana is officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Indiana head on the road for a meeting with the Lynx on Sunday at the Target Center.