Fever Miss a Golden Opportunity to Steal Game 1
By Brian Martin, WNBA.com

Ebony Hoffman scored a career-high 27 points in Game 1, but it was not enough as the Fever fell in overtime.
Michael Stevens/NBAE/Getty Images
PHOENIX, AZ, September 29, 2009 -- In Game 1 of the 2009 WNBA Finals, the Indiana Fever set a franchise record for most points scored in a game with 116 and in a half with 53.

The 116 points surpassed the previous WNBA record of 115 for the most points ever scored in a WNBA game, regular season or playoffs.

The Fever set WNBA Finals records for most points scored in a quarter with 33 in the third quarter and most field goals made in a game with 45 (shattering the old record of 35).

The Fever tied WNBA Finals records for assists in a quarter with nine and most field goals in a half with 21.

The Fever shot 55.6 percent from the field and 47.3 percent from three point range.

The Fever’s Ebony Hoffman set a new career high with 27 points and Katie Douglas set a WNBA Playoffs career high with 30 points.

And the Fever still lost the game.

After trailing for the majority of the game, the Phoenix Mercury put on a fourth-quarter rally in front of their home crowd as US Airways Center and went on to defeat the Fever 120-116 in overtime on Tuesday to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

As the lower seeded-team in this year’s Finals, the Fever must win a game in the Mercury’s building in order to capture their first WNBA title. And Game 1 was there for the taking.

After leading by as many as 10 points during the first half, the Fever held an eight-point advantage early in the fourth quarter. On the verge of stealing Game 1 and swiping home-court advantage away from Phoenix, the Fever were unable to stop the home team’s final rally.

The fourth quarter saw a 12-point swing over the course of six minutes of game action, capped off by a 9-0 run that took just 2:09 off the clock and turned a five-point Fever lead into a four-point deficit.

“It’s very frustrating because you have to seize every opportunity,” said Hoffman of the loss. “We had them on their heels. We were up six with five minutes left and then it hits the fan. Diana [Taurasi] comes down and hits big shots; Cappie [Pondexter] comes down and starts to take over. At that point we have to make someone else be the go-to player besides Cappie and Diana.”

The Fever had a final push of their own as Douglas, who scored a game-high 30 points, hit a three-pointer with seven seconds to play in regulation to send the game to overtime. Unfortunately for Indiana they were unable to make another run during the extra session as Pondexter scored the game’s final five points of the game over the last minute and a half to give Phoenix the 120-116 victory.

One area of concern for the Fever is being outrebounded by the Mercury 34-27 for the game and 12-6 on offensive glass.

"They had 12 offensive rebounds and got 24 second chance points," said Tamika Catchings after the game. "We have to do a better job boxing out. It's really hard to win a game, especially in their place, giving up that many second chance points."

With a WNBA-record 236 points scored in Game 1, perhaps we need to rethink billing this series as the battle between the great offensive team and great defensive team. The Fever made it clear early on that they were not going to walk the ball up the court, drain the shot clock and try to force the Mercury out of their comfort zone. They did the exact opposite. The Fever jumped on the Mercury from the opening tip and tried to beat them at their own game.

With Phoenix faltering early, the Fever kept their foot on the gas to try to create some separation. With 3:11 to play in the first quarter, Indiana had already scored 25 points. Keep in mind that this is the same team that scored in single digits for an entire quarter twice during the Eastern Conference Finals and entered the game averaging just 75.2 points per game in the playoffs.

“We have confidence in our offense in that we can play with the best of them,” said Douglas. “The whole offense versus defense matchup with Mercury and the Fever, that’s all fine to talk about, but we know that we have some weapons too.”

In Game 1 the Fever proved that their offense had been underrated heading into the Finals and that they have the ability to light up the scoreboard when they get out and run. But doing so also proved to be their doom as they played right into the Mercury’s hands by getting sucked into their running game.

“I think we know that we can play fast and play with them, but that's not the type of game that we really want to play,” said Hoffman. “We can’t have the score be in the 100s and actually think we can beat Phoenix. That’s not our game. [Phoenix’s 120 points] is the highest point total we’ve ever given up in the history of Fever basketball. We can’t play like that.”

Hoffman admitted that it’s easy to be lured into playing Phoenix’s uptempo style and says the Fever must show more discipline throughout the rest of the Finals.

“It’s like seeing a warm apple pie on the fridge and then walking past it and smelling it and you say ‘no I don’t need it, but I want it,’” she said. “They make you play like that.”

“We’re a good running team; we just don’t run as much as they do,” said Catchings. “The key for us is not getting so caught up in that up and down game. If they hit a few baskets we have to slow it down. We were taking a couple quick shots here and there and that is something we’ll need to fix.”

Despite going away from their game plan, the Fever still had a chance to beat the Mercury, while playing the Mercury’s style and playing on the Mercury’s floor.

“Tonight gives us confidence going into the second game,” said guard Tully Bevilaqua. “Knowing that we were that close to stealing one on their home court, we’ll be ready to give it another good shot on Thursday.”

“We showed that we can play,” added Douglas. “We showed that we belong here so we need to stay positive and confident with one another and stay together.”

No Fever player took the loss harder than Catchings, who was held to just eight points before fouling out midway through overtime.

“I’m really upset with myself; I let my team down tonight, and it won't happen again,” she said. “Looking at Game 2, if Ebony steps up like she did tonight, and Tammy [Sutton-Brown] continues to do what she does and Katie continues to play well, then it’s just on me to play better.

“The only missing factor tonight was me. Tully did her job, Bri [Briann January] did her job and the people coming off the bench did their job. The biggest thing, looking at the next game, is that I have to step up. I have to shoot more shots, I have to get to the basket more, I have to create more for my teammates and I have to do a better job defensively.

“I take full responsibility for this loss and this missed opportunity.”

The chance to steal a game on the road does not come by very often and the Fever were unable to take advantage of a golden opportunity in Game 1. Phoenix went 12-5 at home this season and now holds a 4-1 record during the playoffs at US Airways Center, which is the site of Thursday’s Game 2.