Just when the Phoenix Mercury needed to catch a break, up popped the five-win Indiana Fever on the schedule.
Not that the rebuilding Fever aren’t making some strides, winning half of their last six games before Friday night. But they are last in the WNBA and have no one capable of matching up with 6-foot-9 Mercury center Brittney Griner, who dropped 36 on them on July 15.
Griner was less dominant this time, not scoring until late in the second quarter, but still finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists as the Mercury broke a five-game home losing streak with a 94-74 win at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The win was just their third in the last 12 games and second over Indiana in that stretch. It was much-needed as Phoenix (17-14), headed to the WNBA playoffs for a sixth straight year, pushes for a top-four seeding and first-round playoff bye — or at minimum, a home game in the single-elimination first round, which requires a fifth- or sixth-place seeding.
Up by 14 at halftime (43-29), the Mercury opened the third quarter with a 19-6 run that left no doubt on Rock the Pink Night in support of breast cancer awareness.
Briann January, who played nine years for Indiana before being traded to Phoenix this year, had a pair of 3-pointers in the game-deciding run, and the Mercury led 79-54 at the end of the third quarter.
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello played mostly reserves in the fourth quarter with a game coming up against Los Angeles on Sunday. She earned her 100th Phoenix win.
DeWanna Bonner, whose wife and former Mercury forward Candice Dupree plays for Indiana, also had a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds). They are parents of twins, born last summer when Bonner sat out due to her pregnancy.
Others scoring in double figures for Phoenix were Diana Taurasi (14), Stephanie Talbot (14) and Yvonne Turner (10).
Rookie guard Kelsey Mitchell led the Fever with 20 points.
The Mercury never trailed in completing a season sweep of the Fever (5-25) and improving to 6-8 at home, where they won for the first time since July 5. Three home games remain to end the regular season.
The Mercury broke open a tie game with a 12-0 run late in the first quarter that began with a Taurasi 3-pointer and included four points from Talbot.
Turner and Leilani Mitchell made back-to-back 3-pointers opening the second quarter as the Mercury stretched a seven-point lead to 13 (28-15).
Griner did not score until 3:38 of the second on a play coming out of a timeout, but she still was close to a double-double at half with eight points and eight rebounds.
Mercury forward Stephanie Talbot grew up in south Australia in the port city of Wallaroo, 100 miles from Adelaide. She first played netball before switching to basketball when she was 16 in part because netball is not an Olympic sport.
“I’m an ocean girl,” said Talbot, whose parents own a beach clothing store. “I love the beach. I like surfing, I’m not good at surfing. I pretend I am. I can stand up and catch a wave. But half the fun of surfing is falling off, trying things and getting dunked.”
Her beaches of choice are North Beach in Wallaroo and South Noarlunga in Adelaide.
“The actual beach where I grew up is flat so no surfing but paddle boarding. Where I’m from, you drive your car on the beach and park there for the day. You can jet ski, paddleboard, eat, sun tan, all the normal stuff.”
At 14, Talbot like her older brother went to boarding school in Adelaide then three years later joined the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. She played for several years in the Australian WNBL before stepping up to the WNBA in 2017.
“I remember sometimes end of term or semester, mom would take me back to school and I’d be like I don’t want to go,” Talbot said. “But everybody goes through that. I went through it when I was 14 instead of going through it when I was a little bit older. So now that I’m older (24), it’s easy.
The Los Angeles Sparks (18-12) make their lone regular-season appearance in Phoenix for a nationally televised game (ESPN2) at 4 p.m. Sunday. The Mercury are 0-2 vs. the Sparks on the road, losing 80-72 on May 27 and 78-75 on Aug. 5.