INDIANAPOLIS -- Playing without 6-foot-8 rookie star Brittney Griner, the Phoenix Mercury turned back the clock on Saturday.
The Mercury went with a perimeter-oriented lineup and emphasized an athletic style powered by star guard Diana Taurasi. It resulted in an 82-67 victory over the Indiana Fever at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a game televised nationally by ABC.
For Coach Lin Dunn and the Fever, the Phoenix strategy stirred some uncomfortable memories.
“It reminded me of the old Phoenix team in 2009 that won a championship,” Dunn said about a Mercury squad that defeated the Fever in that season's WNBA Finals. “They went with their length, their quickness, their speed. They had a totally different game plan than they did the first three games (of the 2013 season).
“The game plan,” Dunn added, “was to get Diana Taurasi open and spread the floor and use their athletes.”
Griner, the celebrated top pick in the 2013 WNBA draft, was a late scratch due to a left knee sprain. Indiana's coaches heard just a few minutes before tipoff that Griner, averaging 16.7 points and 6.7 rebounds, would sit out.
“We were ready for Griner, and I think it really threw us off that she wasn't in there,” Dunn said.
Taurasi led Phoenix with 26 points as her team shot 47.7 percent (31-of-65) from the field. DaWanna Bonner had 24 points and Candice Dupree and Lynetta Kizer each contributed 10.
Indiana's Shavonte Zellous continued her torrid start to the season, leading the Fever with 29 points, a career high for the regular season. She connected on 10-of-13 shots, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range.
“I felt real good,” said Zellous, whose 19.5 season scoring mark tops the Fever. “I think we were all in it. We just couldn't quite get it together, and that third quarter always seems to get us right now.”
In the third, Phoenix lifted its shooting to 50 percent (8-of-16) and mounted a 26-12 push, taking a 13-point lead. The Mercury extended its margin by hitting the first six points of the fourth quarter.
Other than Zellous, the Fever struggled to connect on shots. Forward Tamika Catchings scored 14 points while making just 5-of-18. Indiana hit 37.3 percent (25-of-67) as a team.
“The whole momentum just shifted in the third quarter,” Catchings said.
“It's like we start off really well at the beginning and as the game goes on, it kind of ... starts getting a little lopsided. But we have to figure out a way to fight through that.”
The Fever, which fell to 1-3, faced other problems. Phoenix outrebounded the home team, 42-30, and grabbed 13 offensive boards.
“When we don't do our rebounding drills every day, we forget to rebound,” Dunn said. “It's not yet an ingrained habit.”
The Fever also didn't take advantage of some matchup advantages created by the Mercury's lineup juggling and Griner's absence. Indiana center Erlana Larkins, a star in her team's run to the WNBA championship last season, didn't attempt a field goal in nearly 29 minutes on the floor.
“It's hard to take a shot when you don't get the ball,” Dunn said.
Indiana continues to play with an injury-depleted lineup. The status of Katie Douglas, a top scorer, remains uncertain as she recovers from a bulging disc in her back. Erin Phillips (knee), Jeanette Pohlen (knee) and Jessica Davenport (leg stress fracture) likely won't return until midseason.
Phoenix gained its first victory after three losses.
“I don't think we adjusted to the athleticism that Phoenix has,” Zellous said. “But we're going to learn from it and get better.”