Phoenix is home to the highest-scoring basketball team, on a per-minute basis, in North America -- and it's not the Suns. If it were, maybe Valley sports fans would give a crap. As it is, most are probably unaware that, without a doubt, the Phoenix Mercury women's basketball team is the best damn competitive sports team in the city.
Or maybe they do know, and they just don't want to admit that the biggest sporting winners in this city are chicks with balls.
If this is the problem, take in the first game of the WNBA finals for free and get a more educated opinion. In an attempt to get butts in seats for Tuesday's game in Phoenix, Suns and Mercury GM Steve Kerr is giving away 7,000 free tickets to the first game on a first-come, first-serve basis at the US Airways Center box office.
Other cities might laugh at the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks, neither of which even came close to making the playoffs this year. They could even justify calling the Arizona Cardinals' 2009 Super Bowl appearance a fluke after the Indianapolis Colts stomped them on Sunday. And who knows what's going on with the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes ice hockey team?
But nobody can say the Phoenix Mercury -- which opens the WNBA finals with a home game against the Indiana Fever on Tuesday -- suck.
Those chants of "Beat L.A.!" you hear on Suns home court games against the Lakers? Well, the Phoenix Mercury beat L.A. 2-1 in the WNBA Western Conference finals last week, sending legendary L.A. Sparks center Lisa Leslie into retirement without a shot at a third WNBA title.
The Phoenix Mercury, 2007 champions, averaged 92.8 points per game during the season, and 100 points per game in their first four playoff games. They head into the league finals this week leading in every offensive category. The team is shooting a field-goal percentage of .488. They made almost 84 percent of their free throws on home court games. They have the best record in the league this season (23-11).
The Mercury have been the high-caliber run-and-gun style team the Suns were under Mike D'Antoni. The biggest difference is that neither San Antonio nor L.A. could stop the Mercury this season.
Looking at the Mercury's match-up against the Indiana Fever in the WNBA finals, it's likely that the Merc will bring their second national sports championship to Phoenix. That's not to say the Indiana Fever are a cakewalk -- this is, after all, a team that's known as "stingy" with the ball and for smothering opposing teams' big scorers. The Mercury's best shooter and season scoring leader (in fact, the league's all-time scoring leader) Diana Taurasi will be guarded by the Fever's Tamika Catchings, the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Taurasi, however, has been on fire ever since she was pulled over for DUI in Phoenix this past July. We're not saying her bar-hopping misstep gave her something to prove and made her play harder, but we have noticed that she's averaged more than 20 points per game since the incident. Bottom line: Whether she's pulling out a shot from three-point range or driving to the basket, Taurasi's hard to stop.
But even in the unlikely event that the Fever manage to shut down Taurasi, the Mercury have other super-starters -- like Cappie Pondexter, who was fourth in the league in scoring and third for assists this season, and veteran 6-foot-4 center Tangela Smith, who averaged 9.3 points and five rebounds per game. And the Mercury bench is the deepest in the league, with players like hot-shot rookie DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor, both of whom averaged at least 10 points and 3.7 rebounds per game this season.
Taylor, a few fans might recall, was a key member of the Mercury's 2007 championship roster. She sat out the 2008 WNBA season to prepare for the 2008 Olympics with the Australian National Team. Her return to the Mercury, even as she continues to recover from ankle surgery this past spring, bolsters an already-strong roster.
Who's there to worry about on the Indiana Fever's offensive end? Well, guard/forward Katie Douglas is their best basket case, so to speak -- she averaged 15.2 points per game during the 2009 season and scored 28 points in the Fever's regular season victory against the Mercury, on August 8. Douglas was injured and out for the other regular season match-up between the two teams, in which the Mercury beat the Fever 106-90. There's also center Tammy Sutton-Brown for the Mercury to consider -- she averaged 13 points and six rebounds per game this season. Also worth noting are the facts that the Fever set a league record of 373 steals this season, and got into the finals by defeating three-time WNBA Champions the Detroit Shock in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Most sports pundits say the deciding factor in whether the Fever can take the brass ring will be if they can slow down the Merc. They will not be able to simply outrun and outscore them, even though Fever head coach Lin Dunn told the Indianapolis Star, "We're not going to play slow ball."
Yet even Fever guard Tully Bevilaqua had to admit, "With Phoenix, there's always that opportunity to win if they're not shooting well. They live and die by their offense."
The operative word in Bevilaqua's statement is "if." It almost sounds like she's saying there's only a chance to beat the Mercury if the Mercury makes mistakes and shoots poorly -- and the Mercury have been spot-on most of the season.
Unfortunately, the Mercury's stellar season has been a secret to all but the most hardcore WNBA fans; sadly, most Phoenix basketball fans aren't bothering to pay attention. But they should, because within the next 12 days, the Phoenix Mercury could quite possibly do what no other sports team in this city has ever done: win a second title.
The WNBA Finals (a best-of-five series) begins Tuesday, September 29, at US Airways Center in Phoenix. Ticket prices start at $10 for upper-level seats, with lower-level tickets starting at $35.75. Visit www.phoenixmercury.com for more information.
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