The Phoenix Mercury hoist the championship trophy after dethroning the Detroit Shock by winning Game 5 on Sunday.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
Phoenix had “Paul Ball,” the run-and-gun fast break offense taught by Paul Westhead, while Detroit played the hard-nosed, grind-it-out style taught by Bill Laimbeer.
The Shock were the proven team as their style had led them to two WNBA Championships, while the Mercury were the inexperienced group that was fun to watch. But could they win a title with that up-tempo style?
After all, everybody says defense wins championships and the game has to slow down in the Finals. The Mercury were out to prove those basketball cliches wrong in this series, and they did so with their 108-92 win over the Shock in Game 5 to clinch the 2007 WNBA Championship. Phoenix became the first team in the 11-year history of the WNBA to win a championship on the road.
“The adage has always been out there in all leagues of basketball that a running team can’t win the final series because everything slows down,” Westhead said. “We were kind of hell-bent on, win or lose, we weren’t going to slow down. The fact that we were able to push it today, get good open shots and shoot on the run the way we have been all season and win, that’s a nice achievement for our players.”
Westhead preached throughout the Finals that the Mercury were going to play their game, that they were going to do what got them to the Finals and not change their style as the stage got larger.
“We’ve done it all season: defend, rebound and run,” said Kelly Mazzante. “Every time we’ve done that successfully, we’ve won the game. We believe in the system, we believe in each other, and tonight that’s what happened.”
In the championship-clinching Game 5, the Mercury put it all together. They shot 52.3 percent from the field, 39.3 percent from 3-point range and hit 29 of their 30 free throws. They also tallied 25 assists on their 34 made baskets while only committing nine turnovers.
Phoenix jumped out to a double-digit lead six minutes into the game and led by 13 at the end of the first quarter – a quarter in which the Mercury hit 11 of their 15 shots (73.3 percent), including 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
“For the first four games we weren’t able to play our style of basketball and we wanted to come out tonight and play our style and it finally happened,” said Finals MVP Cappie Pondexter, who scored 26 points and handed out 10 assists in Game 5.
Pondexter was quick to give Westhead – the only head coach to win titles in both the NBA and WNBA – credit for leading the Mercury to the championship.
“Our coach is a mastermind with basketball. He’s brilliant and we believed in him since day one,” she said. “Every day he brought us focus and hard work and it has paid off. He allowed us to be great – to be the greatest players that we can be. He believed in us and he gave us the confidence.”
Mercury general manager Ann Meyers Drysdale helped Westhead put this team together and praised the coach for the job he did with the team.
“Paul put this team together. He knew the kind of players that he wanted and we went out and got them,” she said. “Paul is such a teacher. Paul has never been negative. He’s never told anybody it’s a bad shot. When you give your players that kind of confidence and belief in themselves and each other, it just reflects in the way they play.”
One player in particular that Westhead had confidence in going into Game 5 was Penny Taylor. Taylor had a miserable Game 4, scoring only six points on 1-for-11 shooting, but rebounded in Game 5 with a game-high 30 points.
"I got on the bus coming to the arena today and my wife was all nervous and I said, 'Don’t worry we’re going to be okay.' I said 'Penny Taylor is going to show up today,'" Westhead said. "I didn’t know how well, but I knew she’s just such a good player that she’s not going to be held down two games in a row."
Diana Taurasi, who scored 17 points in Game 5, described the championship as a culmination of what Westhead envisioned two years ago when he was hired as the Mercury head coach. She was also quick to take a jab at everyone that told this team it could not win with their style of play.
“People were saying, ‘You can’t win shooting threes, you can’t win playing zone, you can’t win playing run and gun.’ But you know what? You can, and we did.”