Pondexter, Mercury Top Shock, Force Game 5

By Mark Heller
Sept. 14, 2007

The former soccer player reappeared, sans ball and cleats. Diana Taurasi didn’t pull off a Brandi Chastain moment when the final horn sounded, but it wasn’t too far removed.

An elimination game turned into a second chance for the Mercury, and when Taurasi dropped to her knees to the US Airways hardwood, looked upward and pumped her arms to the air, Phoenix somehow had forged a thrilling 77-76 victory in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals on Thursday night, tying the series at two games each.

So the team will travel East this weekend to play one more game Sunday.

The two players most responsible for the bedlam at US Airways Center were Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, and they let out the loudest of the screams.

“I didn’t feel a thing,” Taurasi said. “It was the greatest moment.”

How it compares with her NCAA championship moments from her University of Connecticut days is anyone’s guess, a theory better left for her to decide should the Mercury win the title.

Getting there, however, wasn’t part of the plan.

For the second straight night the ball clanged and clanged some more, a second consecutive game of sub-40 percent shooting.

Phoenix had its second-lowest point total of the season at halftime.

“I said, ‘This can’t continue,’ ” Mercury coach Paul Westhead said.

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It did, until the fourth quarter. Thanks to Detroit’s six turnovers and a little — gasp! — defense, Phoenix kept itself within one shot.

Plenette Pierson and Deanna Nolan came up big for Detroit in the fourth quarter, but Pondexter pushed them aside in the final two minutes.

The second-year guard drove and fed a struggling Kelly Miller in the corner for a 3-pointer to pull the Mercury within one with 90 seconds remaining.

“It felt good when it left my hand,” Miller said. “Unlike most of the others.”

Two possessions later, Pondexter put her head down again and put back her own miss with 42 seconds left.

Next time down the floor, Pondexter did a crossover dribble and beat Nolan to give Phoenix its final lead with 18 seconds remaining.

“She was legendary status,” Taurasi said. “She’s amazing.”

Said Pondexter: “When the game is on the line, I feel like I can win every time.”

Phoenix cut off Nolan and Katie Smith during Detroit’s final possession, and Shannon Johnson’s airball at the horn sent the arena into sensory overload.

Nolan had 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists in 40 minutes and Pierson avoided suspension for an altercation with Penny Taylor in Game 3, and scored 23 points.

Taurasi and Pondexter combined for 46 points and nine assists. The rest of the starters shot 8-for-36.

Joyous as they were in the immediate aftermath, Phoenix quickly reined in its perspective, but the locker room could finally do what was taboo all season long: Look ahead to one more.

“It was scripted about as well as it could be,” said Mercury coach Paul Westhead, who rattled off Istanbul, Moscow and Paris among his ideal places to play Thursday’s deciding game.

They’ll settle for suburban Detroit.

Said Westhead: “If I’m a fan I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.