Mercury Headed to WNBA Finals

By Mark Heller,
Sept. 2, 2007

They got the real thing this time. No stand-ins like that night in Seattle earlier this month, when the Mercury doused each other with water after they clinched a playoff spot.

The real bubbly arrived in their locker room Saturday following their 98-92 victory against San Antonio before a raucous crowd at US Airways Center.

Two playoff series. Two sweeps. Now Phoenix gets to sit back and let Detroit and Indiana bully each other around two more games, and revel in their first WNBA Finals appearance since 1998.

Depending on who wins, the Eastern Conference matchup will determine whether Phoenix stays or goes to open the best-of-five Finals, which begin Wednesday. If Detroit comes back to beat Indiana twice (today and Monday), the Mercury hit the road for Games 1, 2 and a possible Game 5. If Indiana wins, the Mercury have homecourt advantage.

Those are the details. Saturday was about celebrations. And this one lasted at least an hour after the game ended.

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“I’ve been waiting for this for 10 years,” forward Tangela Smith said.

Smith had been this far before in Sacramento but is still looking for a ring.

Most of the rest of the team hasn’t, but it’s hard to tell these days. Phoenix is the sole undefeated team in the playoffs. The Mercury haven’t lost a game since Aug. 4.

“They just weren’t going to let it go,” Mercury coach Paul Westhead said of his team.

Following a controversial call at the end of Game 1 that led to Cappie Pondexter’s game-winning free throws for Phoenix, the Silver Stars came out like gang busters. Shanna Crossley hit five 3-pointers in the first half, and the Mercury once trailed by 12 points in the second quarter.

But Phoenix drew even to San Antonio early in the third, and the back-and-forth began until the final three minutes.

As they’ve done almost flawlessly since the All-Star break, the Mercury made all the plays in the final three minutes, even though San Antonio faced elimination.

First came Smith’s 3-pointer. Then Kelly Miller had two steals and a driving layup. Then Diana Taurasi hit the floor for a loose ball that turned into a three-point play at the other end.

Then came Penny Taylor’s 4-point play with 1:24 left for a 93-86 lead.

This series, however, was Pondexter’s. The second-year guard made 12 of 19 shots (4 of 6 from outside), plus had 10 rebounds and eight assists.

She scored nine points in the fourth quarter on a mixture of outside shots and acrobatic drives. She also helped the Mercury hold Crossley to one basket in the second half and league MVP candidate Becky Hammon to 5-of-18 shooting.

“That was the best game I’ve seen a player have in a long time,” Taurasi said.

Smith lamented afterward that if she made a couple more shots, Pondexter would have had a triple-double.

Pondexter is averaging 27 points and six assists per game in the playoffs.

“It was incredible, and I think that shows how our season went,” Pondexter said. “I’m just happy now we’re in position to sit back and wait.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.