How big of a deal was Friday's WNBA championship game in Phoenix? Well, consider this: the only other times a basketball team's won a championship in this city, it was the Boston Celtics beating the Phoenix Suns on our home court in 1976, and then the Chicago Bulls beating the Suns on home court in 1993. When the Phoenix Mercury won their first WNBA championship in 2007, they were in Detroit. And when the Suns won their first NBA championship -- oh wait, never mind. That hasn't happened.
So this WNBA championship game was actually a very big deal to the more than 17,000 fans -- including Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Phoenix Suns center Robin Lopez -- who packed US Airways Center on Friday night to watch the Mercury win their second WNBA championship in three years.
In the first half of game five, the Mercury shot 58 percent to the Fever's 42.5 percent from the field, but they were trailing Indiana 16-23 at the end of the first quarter. That was largely because of Fever center Tammy Sutton-Brown, who scored 16 points and went 5-6 from the field during the first half. And it was chilly on the Mercury's side of the court, with the team shooting 36 percent and going 4 of 15 in the opening period.
But in the second quarter, the Merc kicked into gear and played the run-and-gun, catch-us-if-you-can game that's made them so hard to beat. With Mercury offense, tenacious scorers lurk in every corner. There were lots of baskets by the "big three" -- Cappie Pondexter, with her deadly mid-range jump shots, scored eight points; Penny Taylor, with her almost unstoppable driving layups, scored five points; and Diana Taurasi, the 2009 WNBA MVP, scored 13.
There were also contributions from the Mercury's talented bench, including DeWanna Bonner, who scored five points. The Mercury shot 76.5 percent from the field and went 13 of 17 in the second quarter, a WNBA finals record. They led Indiana 51-42 at half time.
The Mercury continued their scoring blitz in the third quarter, but the Fever fought back. Fever rookie Briann January (from Arizona State) sank a three-point shot with less than a minute to shrink the Mercury lead to 70-65 heading into the final quarter.
Arguably, the fourth quarter's most important shots for both teams came from two players who aren't necessarily known for big, important shots. Fever reserve center Jessica Davenport was on fire in the paint, scoring 10 points to lead Indiana's comeback rally. She was helped by Fever forward Tamika Catchings, who had three rebounds, three assists, and a steal in the quarter. Sutton-Brown sank a jump shot for the Fever that tied the game 80-80 with 4:29 remaining.
Phoenix Mercury center Tangela Smith is sometimes overlooked on a team with such big guns as Pondexter and Taurasi. But the two three-point shots she made with 3:34 remaining, her only field goals of the night, were pretty much the proverbial nails in the coffin for the Fever. Davenport and Catchings would each score one more field goal, and then that was all from Indiana. Phoenix racked up more points from Pondexter, Taylor, Bonner, and Taurasi before the final buzzer to win the game (and the 2009 WNBA Championship) 94-86.
The high scorers for Phoenix were Taurasi (26 points), Pondexter (24 points), and Penny Taylor (14 points). The high scorers for Indiana were Tammy Sutton-Brown (22 points) and Jessica Davenport (a career-high 18 points).
After the game, WNBA President Donna Orender named Diana Taurasi as the 2009 WNBA Finals MVP. You can view a slide show from Friday's game here.
The championship rally for the Merc begins tonight at 6 in the Casino Arizona Pavilion at US Airways Center.