WNBA Finals: Mercury-Fever Game 4 Preview
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Diana Taurasi hasn't found her rhythm during the WNBA finals and the Phoenix Mercury are paying for it.
The Indiana Fever lead the series 2-1 and can win its first championship on Wednesday night in Game 4. Indiana's odds of closing out the best-of-five series increase if Taurasi, the league's MVP, has another poor shooting performance.
Taurasi is averaging 20 points per game in the finals, but she's making fewer than a third of her shots while being hounded by defensive player of the year Tamika Catchings.
Indiana held Taurasi to 6-for-16 shooting and won Game 3 86-85 on Sunday. Catchings doesn't expect another off night from the league's regular-season scoring champion.
"She missed quite a few wide open shots,'' Catchings said. "Don't look for her to miss those next game.''
Indiana guard Katie Douglas said the Fever will continue to try to disrupt Taurasi and support Catchings with aggressive team defense.
"We've done a tremendous job on her, but at the same time, no one's relaxing,'' Douglas said. "She's the MVP of the league, she's a bomb waiting to go off. Just one 3-pointer or layup could erupt the volcano that she can become.''
Taurasi shot 46 percent in the regular season, but is at 33 percent in the finals. She recognized that she was in a slump and said she's been spending extra time on her shot.
"I went back and watched the film yesterday, the whole game from minute one to the end,'' she said. "It comes down to getting shots and knocking down shots.''
Phoenix coach Corey Gaines took responsibility for Taurasi's struggles, saying he needs to get his scorers in better position.
"It's an adjustment on my end, and we're going to get that done,'' he said. "She's doing what she's supposed to do.''
Gaines said his team remains confident that it can win its second title in three years. He said the Mercury had many good moments in Sunday's loss and could have won.
Taurasi has drawn attention away from Cappie Pondexter, who is averaging 19.3 points and 5.0 assists in the series. The All-Star, who finished fourth in the MVP balloting, is causing headaches for the Fever.
"We have to do a better job with that,'' Catchings said. "When she gets the ball up top in the middle, it destroys our defense and all our defensive principles. We've tried a little bit of everything. I think the biggest thing is just tightening it up.''
While Taurasi has struggled, the Fever have shot surprisingly well. Indiana was the worst shooting team in the league during the season, but has shot 50 percent during the finals.
Indiana has countered Phoenix's high-scoring offense with balance. Catchings, the runner-up to Taurasi in the MVP balloting, is just fifth on her team in scoring during the finals. She is averaging 13.3 points and shooting 36 percent, but she also is averaging 9.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.7 steals.
"The thing that I've always tried to do is whatever it takes to make this team win, whether it be rebounding or distributing,'' she said. "I think this year, our team has finally gotten the point.''
Taurasi said Indiana's bench of Briann January, Jessica Davenport and Jessica Moore have been the difference. She singled out January, a rookie point guard who is averaging 15 points in the series. January scored 10 points in a 1:16 stretch at the end of the third quarter of Game 3 that gave the Fever a boost.
"She's been their spark, she's been their heart in a lot of ways,'' Taurasi said. "She's been coming into games, and not being shy of shooting, being aggressive, making winning plays. She has just been nails, really. She's played like a 10-year vet with no conscience.''
The series has been entertaining, with close games and the highest-scoring game in WNBA history. The league says television viewership for the finals are up 51 percent compared to last year's Detroit-San Antonio series through Game 3. The rating of 0.4 is up 33 percent from last year.
Taurasi said she relishes moments like these, being down 2-1 and facing a crowd that booed her in pre-game introductions before Game 3, a rarity in women's basketball. Taurasi said the boos sound like cheers to her, and she looks forward to the challenge.
"You can't be afraid of the moment, you can't be tentative about it,'' she said. "You have an opportunity to do something special.''