The day after Brittney Griner was harassed at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, she dropped a team-high 29 points and made a key basket late to guide her Phoenix Mercury past the Indiana Fever 85-82 Sunday evening at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
It was Diana Taurasi’s 41st birthday.
The Mercury (2-5) never trailed after a Griner inside bucket made it 82-80 with 1:32 remaining. Sophie Cunningham followed with the biggest shot of the game: her third three of the fourth. It made the score 85-80 Mercury with 50 ticks left.
GET SPICY SOPHIE!!!!— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) June 11, 2023
NaLyssa Smith (29 points, 12 rebounds, four assists in defeat) would score inside at 29 seconds remaining and appear to be going to the stripe with the chance to cut it to two, but a Vanessa Nygaard challenge negated the foul and an Erica Wheeler fadeaway desperation three to tie missed off the front rim at the buzzer.
Griner was 9-of-13 from the field and 11-of-12 at the stripe, adding six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. Taurasi added 18 points, six boards, seven helpers and two swipes to the winning cause while Michaela Onyenwere had 11 points and 12 rebounds, Sug Sutton had 10 points and seven assists and Cunningham had 13 points. Both Onyenwere and Cunningham were 3-of-5 from deep.
A Taurasi steal led to a Griner inside make off an offensive rebound on the other end that cut the Mercury’s deficit to 77-74 with four minutes to go. Cunningham then scored in an unconventional way for her: by backing down on the smaller Wheeler. Sutton would give Phoenix a 78-77 lead after an aggressive drive in transition turned into a made layup despite a strong contest.
Smith hit back-to-back mid-range shots to give Indiana a 72-69 lead with 6:58 remaining. She later scored off her own offensive rebound to make it 75-72 Fever and then off a spin move to make it 77-72 at 5:05 to go.
A couple Cunningham threes and a couple Griner free throws within the first 56 seconds of the fourth made up an 8-0 run that tied the game at 67. On the ensuing possession after Griner’s free throws, Taurasi stole the ball and found Cunningham for the transition triple that tied it.
Phoenix extended it to a 10-0 run when a Taurasi layup made it 69-67.
The Fever (2-6) went on a 10-0 run from eight seconds remaining in the second quarter to 2:24 into the third to give themselves a 50-43 lead. A Lexie Hull block of a Taurasi shot-turned-Kelsey Mitchell layup was the key moment that capped the run. Wheeler added four points on the run. She would score again to make it 54-45 Fever with 6:31 remaining in the third and on a mid-range make that made it 60-53 at the 4:27 mark of the frame.
A 5-0 run toward the end of the third featuring a three from Hull and a short Queen Egbo shot from the left baseline that rattled in made it 67-57 for Indiana’s largest lead of the game. The Mercury’s largest was nine.
The Fever went on an 8-0 run from 5:44 in the second to 3:43 in the second to take a 36-35 lead. Smith scored the first four points of the run on a mid-range make from the left baseline and a difficult layup. A Wheeler floater then cut Phoenix’s lead to 35-34 before two Smith free throws gave Indiana the lead.
The Fever then trailed 43-42 at the break.
A Griner spin move-turned-layup two minutes and 44 seconds into the second quarter gave the Mercury a 32-23 lead, matching their largest advantage in the first. But Kristy Wallace answered with a left-corner three and then Aliyah Boston turned an offensive rebound into a layup that cut it to 32-28.
Griner started the game with a 7-2 individual run that featured some difficult inside makes. She was going right at the basket, looking to score. A Taurasi pull-up three made it 10-2.
An Onyenwere three at the 7:18 mark of the first gave Phoenix a 13-4 lead and it would lead by nine three more times in the opening frame, though not by double digits. A Taurasi layup made it 15-6, two Taurasi free throws made it 19-10 and a Taurasi three made it 25-16.
Wheeler finished with 17 points and eight assists.
The Mercury lost field goal percentage 48.5 to 45.3, but won 3-point percentage 37.5 to 20 and free throw percentage 85.7 to 75. They made five more threes and six more free throws than the Fever.