Despite Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter finally finding their groove early in a game this WNBA finals series, the Phoenix Mercury lost game three by one point, putting them one loss away from elimination as they seek their second title.
The visiting Mercury had a better showing in their game against the Indiana Fever on Sunday than they did on home court Thursday, when Penny Taylor was pulled from the Mercury squad with an injury in the third quarter, and neither Taurasi nor Pondexter could manage to get many shots down. The Mercury lost game two 84-93. Leading into today's game, the best-of-five series was tied 1-1.
The first quarter of game three was almost like deja vu from game two, with Taurasi going 0-3 for field goals and only making one free throw. At the end of the quarter, Phoenix trailed the Fever 24-17, and most of Phoenix's points came from Le'coe Willingham and Nicole Ohlde. Mercury Coach Corey Gaines put Penny Taylor (who was wearing a mouth guard after Thursday's lip laceration) in the game about seven minutes into the quarter, but she would not be factor until the second period, when both Taurasi and Pondexter finally hit their strides and started racking up points.
The Mercury had every advantage heading into the second half. Pondexter had already scored 13 points and made five assists and three rebounds. Historically, the Merc are 5-0 when leading at halftime in the post-season. But Fever Coach Lin Dunn pulled an interesting defensive switch. She put Tamika Catchings, who usually guards Taurasi, on Pondexter. And she put former ASU star Briann January in to guard Taurasi. But it was January's offensive that put a hurting on the Merc, as she hit two three-point shots to shrink the Mercury lead to 67-70.
The fourth quarter was a literal nail-biter, as even Coach Dunn was caught on camera chewing her digits. The Mercury were shooting 47 percent at the start of the periodr, a vast improvement over the 39.7 percent they shot in game two. Taurasi finished a drive to score a basket, and then charged into Fever star Katie Douglas, in what looked like a headbutt to the breast that even had Douglas laughing. Officials called a somewhat baffling double technical foul (the replay never established what Douglas did to get called for a foul), and the game started to get away from the Mercury from there.
Fever forward Ebony Hoffman, who was playing with an injured shoulder, sank what looked like a three-point shot, but then officials conferred and decided the basket was only worth two points. Still, Hoffman's basket gave the Fever a one point lead.
It all came down to the last 34 seconds of the game. The Mercury called a time out after getting possession of the ball on a jump. Coach Gaines positioned all his scorers in the right places. All the Mercury needed was one basket.
When the whistle blew, Pondexter attempted a pass to Penny Taylor, but the pass was high and fell to Mercury center Tangela Smith. With seconds on the shot clock, Smith took the only shot she had. And missed. Game to the Fever, 86-85.
The high scorer for the Fever was Hoffman with 18 points; Pondexter led Phoenix with 23.
The Indiana Fever are now in a position to win their first WNBA Championship, on their home court Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 4:30 p.m. If the Mercury can win game four, they'll bring the finals series back to Phoenix for a decisive game five on Friday, October 9. Tickets for game five are on-sale at the US Airways Center box office, and at www.phoenixmercury.com.