Game 3 focus is on crowd and tempo

by Justin Whitaker | October 4, 2009
After a historical and heartbreaking Game 1 overtime loss, and a victory in Game 2, the Indiana Fever heads to Conseco Fieldhouse tied 1-1 against the Phoenix Mercury.

The 120-116 victory by Phoenix in Game 1 was the highest scoring game in the WNBA’s history. The overtime thriller featured five players who scored over 20 points, including Katie Douglas’ game-high 30 points.

In Game 2, the Fever defense contained Phoenix stars Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter to a combined 32 points on 12-for-38 shooting. Tamika Catchings led Indiana to a 93-84 victory, with 19 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, only one rebound away from the first ever WNBA Finals triple-double.

Now with the series spilt at 1-1, home-court advantage now resides in Indiana where the Fever are 3-0 in the playoffs and 17-3 overall. The Mercury however, had the best regular season road record at 11-6, the only team above .500.

Now with home-court advantage, how big is the advantage?

“It’s not as important as people put on it,” said Tamecka Dixon, 12-year veteran. “The good thing is that we are in front of our fans. As far as the game itself, Phoenix is going to come in and consider this their home. That’s the way we were when we were in Phoenix.”

One of the three losses that came at home for Indiana was against this Mercury team on September 2. The league’s best road team enjoys playing the spoiler role.

“We came here at the end of the year, Katie (Douglas) didn’t play,” said Diana Taurasi, the 2009 WNBA MVP. “We pride ourselves in coming out and playing well on the road. The road is a good place to come together as a team. There are not going to be many people rooting for us. So it’s basically our little group here that either bands you together or tears you apart. We’ve been using it as our strength.”

In the deciding Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Shock, the announced attendance was capacity at 18,165.

For Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, less than 1,000 tickets remained 24 hours before the 4 p.m. tipoff.

“For me personally, if we have 18,000+ fans it’s exciting,” said Cappie Pondexter, Mercury guard. “Home or away. If someone comes out to support women’s basketball and it’s 18,000 people, I look at it as something cool. I mean it doesn’t happen. The men get it all the time, but for us it’s exciting for the game.”

The crowd at last week’s decisive game of the Eastern Conference Finals was loud, active and rowdy throughout the entire game. Sunday’s audience should be larger, louder and more raucous than the week before.

“It is going to be amazing,” said Tully Bevilaqua, a 10-year veteran. “With the atmosphere we had against Detroit, we are going to have that and then some for this game. The crowd will definitely be a sixth man for us and we just have to go out there and do what we did out there at Phoenix. The energy that crowd brings is just amazing when you are on a run. Even if you need a bit of oxygen or if you feel a bit exhausted you hear that roar of the crowd and somehow you find a little extra energy in the crowd somewhere.”

Bevilaqua, one of the more visually emotional players, feeds off the crowd. A section of the crowd, behind the scorer’s table, participates in an Australian chant after she makes a 3-pointer.

“There is a section that gets into the “Oiy, oiy, oiy” chant after I make a three,” Bevilaqua said. “I like to feed off the crowd and also give them something. At times when I’ve hit a three, it’s been at moments where it brings out everyone’s emotions, not just my own.”

Growing up as Hoosier and now playing in her hometown, Douglas looks forward to the first ever WNBA Finals game played in Indianapolis.

“It’s going to be phenomenal,” said Douglas. “We have some of the best fans here in Indiana, just growing up and being a Hoosier myself I’m really looking forward to Sunday. To see the amount of support in our fans, there is going to be great energy in our stands.”

Besides home court, one issue that has affected both teams in the series has been tempo.

Coming into the series, many questioned whether the Fever could hang with the run-and-gun Mercury who averaged a WNBA record 92.8 points per game during the regular season.

After the record-setting pace of Game 1, the Fever employed a stronger defensive presence and made Phoenix play at the Fever’s pace.

“It has been slow,” Pondexter said. “Probably the slowest I’ve seen all season from us. We watched film and we noticed it. That comes from Penny, Diana and myself. We get the rebound and we are not looking to attack, we are looking for the point guard. She gets it and they slow it down. We are playing their pace instead of ours.”

The “slow” pace did result in two of the three highest-scoring games this season for the Fever, however. The tempo in the series is something that Douglas likes.

“I absolutely love it,” said Douglas, who is averaging 22 ppg in the finals. “I’m accustomed to it, I played like that in Connecticut for five years. We thrive when we are getting out early and running, sharing the ball, playing open and free. I’m really pleased with the tempo.”

Taurasi agrees with her teammate, in that the tempo has been too slow for her too.

“The tempo has not been where we want it to be as far as the game,” Taurasi said. “We’ve only had little spurts playing the type of basketball we have. They’ve been doing a great job of slowing it down, and using timeouts wisely, too.”

No matter what the pace is for Game 3, expect another tough matchup for both teams and the surrounding cast of 18,000 fans.