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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Mercury looking for 2nd title in 3 years

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There is no homecourt advantage in these WNBA finals.

Each team can claim a victory in the other’s arena, and that should be some comfort to the Indiana Fever when they face the Phoenix Mercury in the deciding Game 5 on Friday night.

In fact, Indiana has won two of three in Phoenix, once in the regular season then again in Game 2. The most important road victory, though, came when Phoenix got back in its fast-paced groove for a 90-77 victory Wednesday night in Indianapolis.

That sent the series back to Arizona, where Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Penny Taylor and the rest of the Mercury can claim the franchise’s second title in three years.

“Our strength all year has been our confidence in our attack and I felt like we got that back,” Taylor said after Wednesday’s win. “We were playing with confidence and attacking every single time down the floor and that’s hard to defend for 40 minutes.”

There was no player or coach availability as the teams traveled on Thursday.

The teams have traded wins since the Mercury opened the series with a wild 120-116 overtime win in the highest-scoring game in WNBA history.

In winning its fifth consecutive elimination game, Phoenix simplified its sometimes complex offense to what coach Corey Gaines said was “one play, over and over again.”

That might be a stretch, but the Mercury did move the ball with more ease than at any other time in the series. Time and again, a Phoenix player would drive to the basket, draw a double-team and toss the ball out to a wide-open shooter.

“The plan was to space the floor,” said the Mercury’s Tangela Smith, who made 4 of 6 3-pointers. “When we looked at the film, we realized we didn’t have good spacing. We wanted to keep everyone spaced out. It worked. That’s what we need to continue to do in Game 5.”

The Mercury made 10 of their 24 3-pointers, compared with a 2-for-18 performance for the Fever. Indiana’s best shooter, Katie Douglas, was 2-for-14, 1-for-7 on 3-pointers.

“Katie Douglas, you’ve seen her shoot, she doesn’t shoot 2 of 14,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said. “I thought Tamika Catchings was scoring well, she was aggressive. But they had five people in double figures, we had three. There is the difference in the ball game.”

Gaines has repeatedly said he didn’t think it was the Indiana defense, just poor play by Phoenix, that had shut down the potent Mercury attack. He said the same thing when asked about what his team’s defense did to slow down the Fever in Game 4.

“Truthfully, nothing, they just missed shots,” Gaines said, “and then in the fourth quarter, like most teams, if you’re behind those shots are tougher to take. The shots are easier to take when you’re up by 10, 12, 11 points.”

Catchings, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4, said Indiana won’t go down without a fight, not after she waited eight years in the league to finally reach this moment.

“I mean, it’s an awesome feeling to think about winning a championship,” she said, “and it’s kinda like I don’t want to get too excited because I want to make sure it happens first.”

© 2009 Freedom Communications / Arizona. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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