SAN ANTONIO — The Phoenix Mercury were pushed around, run ragged defensively and missed shots they normally make. They gave up a big lead, too.
It was just the kind of game the WNBA leaders needed.
Candice Dupree had 20 points and 18 rebounds and Phoenix beat the San Antonio Stars 78-73 in overtime Thursday night.
“That’s what I said to my coaching staff, ‘This is not a bad game for us,'” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “Because, really, we haven’t had a lot of close games and it’s actually good preparation leading to the playoffs. Because that’s what playoff basketball is like — it’s a grind, it’s really physical. It was good preparation for us.”
The Stars’ Becky Hammon failed to score and had one assist in her first game since becoming the NBA’s first full-time female assistant coach after the San Antonio Spurs announced her hiring Tuesday.
With Spurs general manager R.C. Buford in attendance for the second straight home game, Hammon spent all but 5 minutes of the second half watching from the bench as the Stars rallied from a double-digit deficit.
“It’s a tough loss,” San Antonio guard Jia Perkins said. “We really needed that game. We hung in there, we fought, but we just came up short.”
Perkins had 24 points and Danielle Adams and Danielle Robinson added 10 points each for San Antonio (13-17), which remains fourth in the Western Conference.
The Stars’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth remained at one with four games remaining.
Penny Taylor scored 16 points, DeWanna Bonner added 13 points and Brittney Griner had 12 for Phoenix (25-4). Dupree and Taylor combined to score 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Griner had five blocks, raising her season total to 117 and surpassing the WNBA’s single-season blocks record of 114 set by Margo Dydek in 1998.
“That’s probably the only one that I really care about,” Griner said. “Blocked shots are my favorite things. Now I’ve got to set it up high and try to beat it next year.”
San Antonio forced overtime after Kayla McBride outfought Phoenix for an offensive rebound following Adams’ missed 3-pointer. McBride fed Perkins, who made a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds to tie it. With the Stars tightly guarding Diana Taurasi, Griner missed a jumper as regulation expired.
After being held to four points on 1-for-8 shooting in the second half, Dupree had 12 points in the final quarter and overtime. She was 5 for 8 in the fourth and overtime, including a layup that put Phoenix ahead to stay at 72-70 with 39.7 seconds remaining.
“Shots started to finally fall,” Dupree said. “I was taking shots in the first half that I normally make but you can’t stop shooting. It’s open in the second half baseline, trying to drive trying to shorten up the shots and make it a little easier.”
San Antonio opened the second half shooting 2 for 12, but closed the third quarter on a 15-4 run for its first lead since the opening minutes. The Stars closed the quarter 5-for-7 shooting, forcing the Mercury out of position off defensive switches with increased ball movement.
Perkins gave the Stars a 44-43 lead with 1:11 left in the third quarter after receiving a second chance to complete a three-point play when Anete Kobryn-Jekabsone had a lane violation on the initial miss.
Perkins later drained a 3-pointer with Taylor closely guarding, giving San Antonio its second straight 3 and a 55-49 lead with 7 minutes remaining.
“Defensively, it was one of our better games,” Stars coach Dan Hughes said. “I thought our activity level was good. I think we tried to work on a couple of things that I saw play out in the game today. I think that’s important this time of year that our team defense gives us a chance, and it did.”