Phoenix 90, Indiana 77 (Series tied 2-2)
Offensive Ratings: Phoenix 111.1, Indiana 98.2
Most of the time, the sport of basketball is too complex to be reduced to one factor. Tonight was not most of the time. In every major category save one, the Indiana Fever had the upper hand on the Phoenix Mercury in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. However, the disparity between the two teams’ shooting from beyond the three-point line proved decisive in the Mercury’s 13-point victory, which forces a deciding Game 5 on Friday at the US Airways Center in Phoenix (6:00 p.m., ESPN2).
In a considerable upset, the Fever actually outscored the Mercury from beyond the arc in the first three games of this series, making 24 triples to Phoenix’s 23. Tonight saw the Mercury find its perimeter stroke, making 10 three-pointers – four of them by Tangela Smith, the WNBA’s leader in three-point accuracy during the regular season. Meanwhile, Indiana had a night to forget in terms of long-distance shooting. The biggest culprit was Katie Douglas, who was 1-of-7 from beyond the arc, but the whole team contributed to a dismal 2-for-18 effort. While the Fever was unlikely to continue its lights-out shooting from early in this series, the 11.1 percent accuracy was a season low.
Give credit to the Phoenix defense for some splendid rotations that allowed the Mercury to clamp down on the paint while still contesting on the perimeter. However, Indiana got makeable looks that simply would not fall for Douglas or rookie Briann January (who missed all four of her three-point attempts and shot 1-of-9 overall). It was, in a phrase, one of those nights for the Fever. Those are tough to survive against a team as potent as the Mercury.
Besides exhorting her team to attack the basket, as ESPN’s microphones caught her doing on several occasions, I’m not sure what Lin Dunn’s options were. Douglas is far too good to bench even on a night where she is shooting so poorly. While January did not shoot the ball well, Indiana was nearly even (-2) with her on the floor but was outscored by 11 when starter Tully Bevilaqua ran the point.
One possible personnel adjustment could be at center, where Tammy Sutton-Brown has had immense difficulty chasing Smith around in this series. The math still worked in the Fever’s favor when Sutton-Brown was dominating the paint at the other end, but Smith largely quieted her tonight. Sutton-Brown scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting and gathered just three rebounds. Jessica Moore fouled out in eight minutes of action, so she wasn’t really an option, but I’m surprised we didn’t see more of Jessica Davenport. During her brief three-minute stint, Davenport completed a three-point play.
On the other side, Corey Gaines tightened up his rotation. The fivesome of Cappie Pondexter, Smith, Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Le’Coe Willingham each played over 30 minutes, and Temeka Johnson (who would have played more if not for foul trouble) was the only other Phoenix player to see at least 10 minutes of action. DeWanna Bonner saw her minutes slashed dramatically, while Nicole Ohlde made a brief cameo and Ketia Swanier received a DNP-CD for the first time in the postseason. It worked, as basically every Mercury regular was effective. The depth of contributions – four players scored at least 16 points – allowed Phoenix to overcome the fact that the Fever again did a good job of slowing Taurasi.
The best outcome tonight was from the league’s perspective, as we’ll get a fifth and final game in a series that has been a showcase for WNBA basketball played at its highest level. Interest continues to pour in from fans of the game who have never really followed the W before. Intensity should be at a fever pitch on Friday, and this series has already been played with tremendous energy and passion as the two teams follow the lead of their uber-competitive superstars, Taurasi and Tamika Catchings. Fortunately, it’s been clean – even a brief incident between January and Johnson tonight was resolved quickly and amicably.
I was a little concerned by the way the Fever players seemed to be hanging their heads after the game, as if implying they felt they’d blown their shot at winning this series. Certainly this was Indiana’s best shot, what with fans again packing Conseco Fieldhouse. However, we know both that the Fever can win at the US Airways Center and that it’s possible to go on the road and win the deciding game of the WNBA Finals, as Phoenix did two years ago. This series is a long ways from over, and that’s great news for fans who are enjoying every minute.