The battle between Indiana's Tamika Catchings, left, and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, right, could decide the winner of Game 5 of the 2009 WNBA Finals.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
Who Wins the First Quarter
In both of Indiana’s victories in this series, it topped Phoenix in the first quarter, outscoring the Mercury 31-24 in Game 2 before winning the opening 12 minutes, 24-17, in Game 3. While the teams were tied at the end of one, 31-31, in the Mercury’s triumph in the series opener, Game 4 saw Phoenix hold a 33-22 edge after the first frame. What you can deduce from that is in a series with teams of contrasting styles whoever is the aggressor early on and gets off to the better start tends to set the tone for how the rest of the game is played out. With Game 5 being held in Phoenix in front of what is anticipated to be a spirirted US Airways Center crowd from the start, the Mercury have the odds in their favor for an inspired start. However, as Phoenix knows, that’s not guaranteed. Playing on the road in Detroit in Game 5 of the 2007 WNBA Finals, the Mercury outscored the Shock 30-17 in the first quarter and went on to capture the title.
Diana Taurasi vs. Tamika Catchings
We’re still waiting for that Finals game in which league MVP Diana Taurasi explodes and puts up around 30 points and takes the onus off her teammates to have perfect games in order for Phoenix to win . With such an array of offensive skills and a history of coming up huge in big games, she’s plenty capable of doing it at any point. But so far her high for this series was 22 points in the opener. Since then her totals have steadily declined. A lot of that has to do with the fact that she’s being guarded by the best defensive player in the game, and Tamika Catchings will be right back in Taurasi’s face in Game 5. Catchings is always a threat to have a spectacular game not only defensively by offensively, as she proved in Game 4, and if she had any help from her teammates on the offensive end the last time out the Fever might be celebrating a title right now. Catchings' will and determination are attributes that set her apart from other players, so you have to think she will do everything she can to give her team a chance to win Game 5. With two very talented players guarding each other in a contest with such high stakes, something else you have to watch out for is foul trouble. Both Taurasi and Catchings have experienced it in this series, but are also savvy enough at this point in their careers to be mindful of it.
Will Katie Douglas Rebound?
Katie Douglas would love to forget the dreadful shooting night she turned in Wednesday’s Game 4 loss at home, in which she hit only two of her 14 field-goal attempts, including one of her seven three-point tries. If Douglas hits only a few more shots, Game 4 might have been written with a different ending. But working with a clean slate is easier said then done. Being only two days removed from the performance, it will no doubt be on the mind of Douglas, her teammates and also Phoenix as it attempts to pose the same problems for her. Then again, Douglas is a veteran taking part in her third WNBA Finals and eager to win that elusive first championship. And Douglas has had success previously in Phoenix in this series, scoring 30 points in the opener and hitting the game-tying three at the end of regulation. Indiana ultimately lost that game though because it got very little offensively from Catchings, who scored just eight points before fouling out. If Catchings and Douglas are both on their games Friday, they’ll be tough to beat.
Cappie Pondexter's Upward Trend
The Mercury’s most effective player for the series has probably been Cappie Pondexter and she’s gaining steam heading into Friday’s decisive Game 5. In Game 3, Pondexter poured in 23 points on 11-of-22 shooting to go along with eight assists and five rebounds. Her stellar all-around performance almost single-handedly gave her team a chance to win Game 3, although they came up just short, losing by one. Most recently in Game 4, Pondexter put up 22 points to raise her scoring average in the series to 20.0 ppg. She was also more aggressive in that contest, taking the ball to the hoop seemingly every time she touched the ball and getting to the free throw line eight times. Oh, and she had seven assists and five rebounds. Indiana hasn’t had an answer for her yet and has to be worried that 2007 Finals MVP is braced to reach another level in Game 5. And keeping tabs on her while also accounting for Taurasi, Penny Taylor and others is just what makes this Phoenix team so tough to beat.
Almost quietly the benches for both teams have played a key role in these Finals. On the Phoenix side, there’s Taylor, who has been there to pick up the scoring slack when Taurasi and Pondexter lagged, averaging 16.0 ppg in 24.0 mpg off the pine for Phoenix. Her presence on the court, especially when alongside Taurasi and Pondexter, provides such matchup problems for the bigger Fever. And if the last couple games are any indication, Phoenix head coach Corey Gaines will use Taylor and maybe just Nicole Ohlde and DeWanna Bonner briefly to give the starters some rest. Bonner, the Sixth Woman of the Year, just hasn’t been able to get it going this series on both ends after a solid Game 1. For the Fever, the bench has been marked by surprisingly strong performances from Briann January, who by far has been the better rookie in this series, although she hit a snag in the last game, shooting just 1-of-9 from the floor for eight points, and Game 5 is an entirely different animal. Her speed, defense and ability to knock down open jumpers should be things the Mercury need to be mindful of though. The Fever have also been going a little deeper on their bench than the Mercury recently, utilizing the steady play of veterans Tamecka Dixon and Jessica Moore as well as Jessica Davenport, whose solid post game is tough for Phoenix to defend down low.