The 2009 WNBA season comes to a close tonight with a winner-take-all Game 5 of the greatest Finals series that the league has seen in its 13-year history.
It seems fitting that this series goes the distance and provides us with one more chance to appreciate what the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever have given us in this series.
- High scoring: a record-breaking 120-116 track meet in Game 1 got things off to an incredible start. We knew Phoenix could rack up the points, but the surprise has been the normally defensive-minded Fever coming in and setting the nets on fire as well.
- Close games: We needed overtime to settle Game 1, Game 3 was decided by a single point as every possession down the stretch brought more intensity and drama than the one before it.
- Star power: the series features Diana Taurasi (the three-time scoring champ and first MVP to play in the finals in eight years), Tamika Catchings (a relentless defender that is also capable of posting great numbers on offense) Cappie Pondexter (a dynamic scorer who can break you down off the dribble or drain a three in your face) and Katie Douglas (another scorer that has the smooth lefty delivery, perhaps the best looking shot in the league).
- Breakout performers: Indiana’s Ebony Hoffman and Briann January have stepped up on the brightest stage and taken their games to new levels. Phoenix’s Tangela Smith and Temeka Johnson were huge in Phoenix’s Game 4 win to send the series to a decisive Game 5.
- High-quality basketball: both teams have played some beautiful basketball during this series. It has been an up-tempo style of play that has featured many highlight-reel-worthy plays including some great passes, clutch shots and huge blocks.
“This is the best series ever, from every point,” said Hoffman. “From scoring to toughness to game-winners to last-second shots, this series has had every aspect of basketball that you’d want to see.”
And basketball fans – both male and female – have taken notice.
For example, Kelly Dwyer of the popular Yahoo Sports NBA blog Ball Don't Lie decided to host a live blog during Game 4 to discuss the game as it unfolded.
"If you'd asked me 12 months ago as to whether or not I'd have written a sentence like 'we'll be chatting away about the WNBA and the WNBA only, highlighting some of the best Tweets along the way' in a year's time, well, you make the call," he said in an article promoting the blog. “If you do pass on, um, passing by, deciding to take in some postseason baseball instead, I can't blame you. Understand, though, what I've learned to understand over the last week — you'd be missing out on some fantastic basketball.”
A year ago Dwyer and plenty of hoops junkies like him would not have given the WNBA a chance. Now, thanks in large part to this series, many non-believers have been swayed the other way.
“It’s been great to see the people that have jumped on the bandwagon and especially people that probably haven’t watched women’s’ basketball to see something as exciting as this,” said Catchings. “When you turn on the game it’s not whether you’re a woman or a man, it’s a basketball game and an entertaining one. I think that’s been the biggest thing when you look at this series.”
“The ratings are up, first time people are now becoming hooked, men are starting to say ‘wow, those girls can play,’” said Hoffman. “We’ve change a lot of hearts, we’ve changed a lot of minds and that’s what we were supposed to do in this series.”
ESPN reporter Rebecca Lobo has been involved with the WNBA since Day One. As a player and analyst she has seen this league grow during its formative years and now sees the league on the brink of something special.
“This is the best WNBA Finals that I’ve ever seen or been a part of,” she said. “It’s been tremendous. It’s been really well played; it’s had exciting close games. A lot of times you get close games and they’re not particularly well played and this has been.
“The good thing about it going five games is that it’s been such a great series now we get a chance to expose this great basketball to some more people. Sports fans want to see great games, so that’s the good part of it.”
The Phoenix Mercury were involved in another five-game WNBA Finals back in 2007 and agree that this series ranks high among the best ever.
“I’ll definitely have to say this is top two,” said Pondexter. “Because I think 2007, those games took the league to a whole other level. It was physical, like throwing blows. This one might be the most talented Finals that the WNBA has ever seen. There are so many talented players on both teams.”
That talent will be on full display for the final time tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2. This series has been the best advertisement that the league could ever have hoped for. The exceptional basketball and the competitiveness displayed by these two teams has brought more eyes to this league and they are impressed by what they are seeing.
“It’s gotten a lot more coverage and rightfully so,” said Indiana’s Douglas, “Both teams have been extremely exciting to watch and this Finals experience has been special to be a part of. The level of excitement and awareness that the league has gotten speaks volumes to the talent of that each woman brings to the court. I’m extremely grateful and thankful to be a part of this historical Finals.