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Tempers flare as Mercury go cold in 3OT collapse to Wings

Despite the potential drama stirring as Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson shared the court for the first time since their well-publicized divorce, the Dallas Wings kept their emotions in check, breaking a five-game losing streak to the Mercury in a triple-overtime game Saturday night.

Layne Murdoch

Phoenix, AZ -- It was a hot night in Phoenix, with the temperature sitting at 98 degrees in the hours before game time.

The heat definitely carried into the Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday night, as the visiting Dallas Wings (5-7) took advantage of hot shooting from Karima Christmas and Skylar Diggins to defeat the Phoenix Mercury (3-8) in triple overtime, 117-111.

Dallas, who has only won one of their last seven games, managed to win the game primarily from the free throw line, making 41-of-51 from the charity stripe. Combined, the Mercury and Wings shot a league-record 86 free throws in the game, with Phoenix seeing four of its players (Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Noelle Quinn and Candice Dupree) foul out of the game at integral moments.

The first quarter had plenty of back and forth action, with each team trading basket-for-basket in the opening minutes. With 3:46 left in the first quarter and Dallas down 11-10, Glory Johnson entered the game for Dallas to a chorus of boos.

Johnson, who recently returned from a seven-game suspension due to a domestic violence dispute with Phoenix center and ex-wife Brittney Griner, would not have much of an impact, in the beginning, only scoring three points on free throws as Dallas and Phoenix ended the first quarter in an 18-all dead heat.

The second quarter started out with four fouls in the first 42 seconds, with Dallas being the willing beneficiary, scoring three points off the free assists. Dewanna Bonner and Diana Taurasi, however, began to heat up for Phoenix. The duo combined for 23 points in the frame to give the home team a 48-41 advantage going into halftime.

Coming out of the locker room, Phoenix seemed to turn it to another level, with Candice Dupree and Penny Taylor taking over the show for the Mercury. Dupree made two free throws with 8:45 left in the third to give Phoenix a 52-44 lead, and Taylor came in 30 seconds later with a driving layup to put the Mercury up 10.

Between the two, they scored 17 points in the third quarter, outscoring Dallas 27-17 to give the Mercury their biggest lead of the night (75-69, 16 points) going into the final quarter.

The last quarter should have signaled an easy win for Phoenix, considering they had beaten Dallas five consecutive times (including a two-game sweep in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs last September). However, Dallas was not about to walk away from Phoenix without a fight.

Dallas head coach Fred Williams had confidence in his team, and gave his team a few key points to keep their head in the game, as he noted after the game.

"Keep playing hard, make our own breaks, we've got to have defensive stops in order to get there, and I just felt that a few of our players just buckled down and played some hard defense for us," Williams said. "I thought Skylar helped us on the backside of our defense, and Karima Christmas helped us too, so that was the message in the locker room. And in the huddle it was keep pushing, keep plugging, a lot of things fell our way."

Erin Phillips started the scoring rally for Dallas, making a free throw off a technical foul, and a three-pointer eight seconds later. Christmas made her first of three 3-pointers at the 8:33 mark to cut the Phoenix lead to 9, 75-66.

In the latter part of the fourth quarter, Diggins got hot for Dallas, scoring 12 points in the final four minutes to bring the Wings within two (87-85) with 15 seconds left. After a ten-minute delay due to a shot clock malfunction, Johnson made a two-pointer to send the game into overtime for Dallas, who outscored the Mercury 28-12 in the quarter.

Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello was quick to give Dallas credit for their resilience.

"We just didn't have the energy, we built that seven-point lead, and we got some wide open three's and we just broke down," Brondello said. "This (Dallas) is a team that has a lot of confidence; Skylar Diggins got back into the flow of her game. We were on our back foot, obviously, foul trouble hurt us - when Diana went out."

From the first overtime on, it was a slugfest between both teams. Plenette Pierson scored six points in the first overtime and assisted on the other three to keep Dallas at pace. Phoenix, led by Bonner and Dupree, matched the Wings point for point, with Dupree making a 16-footer with six seconds left to take the game into a second overtime.

The second overtime started with Phoenix imposing its will on the Wings defense. Bonner made a long three, followed by baskets by Griner and Taylor to put the Mercury up 103-96 with 1:57 left in the frame.

At that point, Johnson and Diggins made it a point to give the momentum back to Dallas, scoring five points in 45 seconds to bring the Wings back within two. Odyssey Sims added a driving layup with 27 seconds left to tie the game at 103, with Phoenix failing to prevent a third overtime.

The third overtime proved to be the good luck charm that Dallas needed. With the game tied at 105, Johnson drew a foul against Griner, causing the latter to foul out of the game. Not even 35 seconds later, Griner's replacement, Noelle Quinn, fouled out of the game via offensive foul.

With the game still within reach with 41 seconds left, Dupree would foul out, courtesy of fighting over a loose ball with (you guessed it) Glory Johnson. Johnson made the free throw to put Dallas up 113-133, and essentially took the wind out of Phoenix's sails.

Christmas, who made a couple of key three-pointers in the later periods, showed respect toward Phoenix, while displaying pride in her Dallas teammates.

"I think everybody is just playing with heart," Christmas said. "This team, it speaks to what we can do together as a team, we're never going to quit. I was really proud of the team tonight, just pushing through. We had three overtimes and even Phoenix; they just came off another game last night. So both teams had heart, but we just fought to the end and tried to come out with the win in the end."

The loss snapped the aforementioned streak Phoenix had against Dallas, and also put them in dangerous territory as far as the conference standings are concerned. With the loss, Phoenix is tied for fourth with Seattle, and is now a full game behind Dallas.

Skylar Diggins led the Wings with 27 points on a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line, while Karima Christmas and Odyssey Sims both contributed 18 points to the winning effort. Glory Johnson scored 15 points off the bench for Dallas.

Dewanna Bonner led all scorers with 38 points off the bench, while Penny Taylor led all Phoenix starters with 21 points in the losing effort. Brittney Griner, who has been uncharacteristically struggling in the early part of the season, scored 11 points with nine rebounds.

Phoenix will get a chance to play the spoiler on Tuesday, as they get a rematch with Dallas at College Park Center in Fort Worth, TX., a game that Diggins is looking forward to quite a bit.

"They've got all-stars, champions, everybody is a champion on that squad," Diggins said. "They've got so many seasoned vets on that team, so we're just happy we were able to get a win considering our struggle in a six-game skid, we were able to now get two in a row. So, at home for three more games in a row so we'll take our chances."