All the WNBA teams want it and the Indiana Fever has it, but really how big an advantage is home-court advantage?
Three of the four teams with home-court advantage in the first round of the WNBA playoffs lost Game 1 which is on the road for those teams. The Indiana Fever was the only team to pull out a victory, winning 88-79 against the Washington Mystics.
The semifinal and conference final rounds in the WNBA are best-of-three series with the team owning home-court advantage playing on the road in Game 1. Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3, are at home for the higher seeds.
Is this 1-2 setup an advantage for the team holding home-court advantage?
“The team that has home-court advantage does seem to do more traveling, which is a bit of a disadvantage,” said Tully Bevilaqua, who won a WNBA Championship with the Seattle Storm in 2003. “Clearly the advantage is if you have to go to the third game you have the fans and that home court.”
Bevilaqua sometimes wonders about the series format changing to better favor the team that has home-court advantage.
“Sometimes it’d be better to play the first one at home so you go into the series up one-nil, hopefully,” Bevilaqua said. “If you can take care of your home-court and put the pressure on the other team to have to win. It’s an interesting format, but that seems to be the way the WNBA wants it to be.”
Teammate Katie Douglas is more used to the format than bothered by it.
“I know why they do it, so you just have to go with it,” Douglas said. “I’ve been a part of it for so long that it’s become normal. But it is not what you think traditional home-court advantage is.”
“A lot of different fans from a lot of different sports don’t really understand that is how home-court is here. But you do play your final two games at home.”
All the teams, except the Fever, that had home-court advantage this week lost the first game and now face elimination – headed home for one, possibly two games. That is not necessarily a good situation for those higher-seeded teams.
“You look at all these other teams, they are on the ropes now after their first game,” said Douglas. “That’s a sticky situation to be in. I’ve been in that before with Connecticut and it’s nerve-wracking to work that hard to have that ‘home-court advantage’ then to be on the ropes coming home, it’s not a good feeling to have.”
Being the only team to win on the road only helps Indiana coming back to Conseco Fieldhouse.
“It’s just so difficult to win on the road,” said Douglas. “Home-court doesn’t guarantee you a victory but you can see from the other playoff results that everybody has held home-court except in our series. Having home-court definitely gives you that sixth man.”
Getting that first victory on the road is great for the Fever.
“Game one is just so crucial,” said Douglas. “As evidenced by game one for us, by our tenaciousness, our will to stay composed and find a way to gut it out against Washington.”
The Fever was a league-best 14-3 at home, making the magnitude of home-court that much more important for Indiana.
“If you look at our home record and compare to our road record, clearly it shows we’ve been dominant at home,” said Bevilaqua. “The good thing is we have it through Eastern Conference Finals. It’s nice when you can surround yourself in familiar surroundings, your own dwelling. It’s obviously a huge advantage and with the fans packing the stadium, it gives you that extra adrenaline rush when you are playing.”
Indiana’s 9-9 road record is the best in the Eastern Conference and second-best in the WNBA to the Phoenix Mercury who are 11-7. Even with the second-best road record, being on the road can sometimes throw off the routine for a player.
“When on the road, I tend to find myself pretty much on the hotel bed watching TV for the majority of the time,” Bevilaqua said. “You sometimes can get a little lethargic doing that. When you are at home you got a few extra things you can do in your own apartment and have your places you like to go eat on gameday. No matter your little rituals, all the small things make it more comfortable playing at home.”
The last time the Fever had home-court advantage in the playoffs was against the Connecticut Sun in the 2007 Eastern Conference Semifinals where Douglas was wearing an opposing team’s jersey. The series ended 2-1 with an Indiana victory, but not without some fireworks and an overtime finish.
Connecticut won Game 1 in triple-overtime, 93-88, and Indiana dominated Game 2 for the 78-59 victory. But Game 3 featured the Indiana Fever overcoming a WNBA playoff record 22-point deficit to force overtime and win 93-88.
Douglas still gets flack from that loss.
“They still blow me smoke about the biggest comeback in WNBA playoffs history,” said Douglas, who scored 27 points in that game. “It’s all good though, it was great for the fans, great for the league. Obviously it took me a little bit of time to get over it, being a competitor.”
In the next round against the Detroit Shock, the Fever did not have home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana won its first game, but lost the next two.
This year, the Fever has home-court wrapped up all the way until possibly the WNBA Finals. Douglas hopes it helps in getting the Fever to the WNBA title game.
“We did our work early this year,” said Douglas. “The veterans truly understand the WNBA and the playoff schedule. Hopefully we can use our fans, our arena, our sixth man to get us to the WNBA Finals.”