That means the decisive game five -- the championship game -- will be on the Phoenix Mercury's home court at US Airways Center Friday night.
Things weren't looking great for the Mercury heading into this game. The star player, WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi, had only a 32.7 percent field goal percentage in this finals series. The team was only making 28 percent of its three-point field goals. Both Taurasi and Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter had struggled to hit shots early in every finals game thus far. But as Pondexter pointed out after the game, "When our back is on the line, we're gonna come out fighting."
Historically, that's been true. The Phoenix Mercury have not lost an elimination game since 2001, and they are now 4-0 in elimination games in the 2009 post-season. But that meant little to Phoenix fans who worried that the first quarter of game four would be another slop-shot crap-out for the Mercury that left them playing catch-up in every subsequent quarter. That's what happened the first three games of this series, and the Mercury only managed to "catch up" in game one, and their 120-116 win took some overtime.
But there was no need to worry, after all.
The Fever suddenly woke up in the second, with Katie Douglas nailing a pair of three-point shots right away to shrink the Mercury lead to four. Her baskets were followed by successful shots from teammates Tamika Catchings and Ebony Hoffman. The Mercury seemed to rack up more fouls than rebounds, as both Taurasi and point guard Temeka Johnson picked up their third. The Fever outscored the Mercury 25-16 to cut the Merc lead to 49-47 at the end of the half.
Before the second half, Fever small forward Tamika Catchings said, "The second half's gonna be about heart, and who wants it more." She managed to lead her team to a 59-59 tie at one point in the third period.
But Cappie Pondexter showed she wanted it, too, because she was all intensity and accuracy the rest of the night. She made all six of her free throws in the third quarter, ending the period with 19 points. (Pondexter, by the way, was named WNBA Finals MVP after the Mercury won their first championship, in 2007). Penny Taylor also had a good showing in the third, with a steal and a handful of points. The quarter ended with the Mercury leading 72-65.
The fourth quarter came down to fouls and big shots -- the Fever had most of the former, and the Mercury owned the latter. With Phoenix outscoring Indiana 22-1 since breaking the tie in the third, the Fever could not afford to give fouls. Not only did Fever players foul, but they fouled Pondexter -- who's been shooting 86 percent from the line all season -- twice. She went 7 of 8 from the line in game four.
Even with Catchings' amazing effort (including three steals), the Mercury were too hot. Tangela Smith sunk another three-pointer (she went 4-5 from three-point range), and Taylor scored a trio of buckets and a free throw to help the Mercury win, 90-77.
The high scorer for Phoenix was Pondexter, with 22 points. Catchings led Indiana with 24.
The Phoenix Mercury now have a chance to win their second national title, right here in the Valley. Hopefully, our city's other sports notables will show up. The last time the Mercury played in the WNBA finals, then-Suns coach Mike D'Antoni showed up. Peyton Manning and Larry Bird were in the stands for the Indiana Fever in game four. So...Kurt Warner and Charles Barkley, anyone? Maybe Danica Patrick, at least?
Guess we'll have to wait and see. Tip-off for Friday's game five here is at 6 p.m. Tickets prices start at $10.75 and are available at the US Airways Center box office and at www.phoenixmercury.com. Up to six free upper-level tickets per person are available at the arena box office to those who use the word "captains," while supplies last.
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