Mercury Rising: Phoenix Wins Second WNBA Championship in Three Years
Phoenix finished off the best-of-five series against the Indiana Fever by winning two straight games, including a 94-86 win at the US Airways Center that gave them the title in front of a boisterous, sold-out home crowd.
They finished as the best team in the league from start to finish, but they also finished as battered and tired as they were victorious after an intense, fiercely competitive series.
"In the locker room I said, I don't think I've played a better team than the Fever," said Phoenix superstar Diana Taurasi, who finished with 26 points and the MVP trophy. "They were composed, staying in it no matter what the circumstance.
"And I think the same could be said about our team and that was probably the biggest pride in being in this series."
Eight months is a long time until the next season, the longest offseason in pro sports.
As its players disperse to their overseas teams, Phoenix management can start to ponder its plan for a repeat, a plan that includes finding another big body inside, according to coach Corey Gaines.
Taurasi, whose offseason is going to include the legal fallout of her drunk-driving arrest in July, said re-signing Australian forward Penny Taylor should be the No. 1 priority.
"Repeating is hard," said Taurasi, who has been able to do it both at Connecticut and as an Olympic gold medalist. "Expectations, that us-against-the-world mentality, which obviously, we didn't have last summer (when the Mercury missed the postseason after their 2007 title). But now we can look back on that experience and not let it happen again."
The Fever, meanwhile, have eight months to absorb their disappointment and use it. They had the momentum in this series, up 2-1 with a home game to go in Game 4 and they failed to close it out.
Tamika Catchings admitted that loss took its toll.
"We had an opportunity to beat them at home, and we didn't take advantage of the opportunity," Catchings said. "So, I think the disappointment for me lies in that more so than tonight."
Not that the Fever came into Game 5 in concession-mode. Indiana got a lead, took a punch when Phoenix made its run to go ahead by 11 points and then slowly, but surely got back in the game.
Indiana eventually tied the score at 80-80 on a Tammy Sutton-Brown jumper with 4:29 to go.
And then came the daggers. Tangela Smith hit two wide-open 3-pointers from the top of the arc on back-to-back possessions.
Fever coach Lin Dunn acknowledged the damage of those two baskets.
"There is no way in this world that Tangela Smith should have a wide-open 3," Dunn said. "You are not going to play a perfect game defensively, but you never, ever leave Tangela."
Cappie Pondexter, her eye bruised and swollen from her second-quarter collision with Catchings, said Smith's shots were the defining moment for the Mercury.
"If she hadn't hit those it probably would have been a whole different ballgame," said Pondexter, who had a few big shots of her own with 24 points.
Smith's shots seemingly cemented Phoenix's destiny. Indiana looked like it was laboring to stay in the game, the Mercury were in charge most of the way. After a slow start, including an 0-for-3 first quarter from Taurasi, Phoenix exploded in the second quarter, scoring 35 points, shooting 76.5 percent and it was Taurasi who led the way.
Indiana was the worst shooting team in the WNBA this season, and there were costly flashes of that offensive inconsistency in these last two games.
It's a lot to ask to keep up with the Mercury. Indiana tried to do it inside Friday, getting a combined 40 points from posts Tammy Sutton-Brown and Jessica Davenport.
Catchings will was there, her help was not. She finished a great series with 16 points, nine rebounds, six assists and five steals.
Coach Lin Dunn admitted there was little room for error for her team. It certainly could not afford for leading scorer Katie Douglas to go cold from the perimeter. In the last two games of the series, Douglas went 6-for-28 and 2-for-16 from beyond the arc.
"Every point is gold. Every layup is gold. Every wide-open 3 is gold," Dunn said. "They hit 10 3s. We hit six. I thought we got some good looks. There was a layup at the end that was important.
"We didn't hit enough shots, but I thought we did what we needed to do to get good shots."
This was a seminal series for the WNBA, a chance for the league to define itself as a high-level, exciting product worthy of big television audiences and the sold-out crowds that showed up to watch the last five games.
"We showed how competitive we are as women," Pondexter said. "It's not about flashiness or being able to play above the rim, but just our heart and our commitment level to each other."
Attendance Record: The total attendance for the WNBA Finals was 82,018, a record for the league. Attendance for the season was up 43.3 percent. The overall attendance average for the postseason was up 18.5 percent over 2008.