The MVP and Defensive Player of the Year faced off in Game 1 of the Finals on Tuesday night.
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On Monday, Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerr followed in Bird’s footsteps and purchased the entire upper-level of US Airways Center for Game 1 of the WNBA Finals to show his support for the hometown Mercury and in hopes of attracting some new fans at the same time.
“For anyone who doubts the WNBA level of play, this is an opportunity to see for yourself,” he said in his announcement. “I challenge any doubters to come see the talent, skill and intensity on the court.”
For those that took Kerr’s challenge, they were treated to one of the best – if not the best – games in the league's 13-year history.
"Well, if you didn't like women's basketball, I think you do now.” said Mercury coach Corey Gaines at the opening of his postgame press conference.
This game had everything that you could want in basketball game, whether you are an aficionado or a casual fan that found the game on ESPN2 Tuesday night.
If it's offense that you like, well this game gave you plenty as the teams combined to score 236 points – the most points in a single game in WNBA history. There were a Finals-record 11 players that scored in double figures in this game, including five with more than 20 points. Both teams shot at least 50 percent from the field, 47 percent from three-point range and 84 percent from the free throw line.
Keep in mind that regulation is only 40 minutes, so even with the additional five minutes for overtime, they still played less minutes than your standard NBA game and posted a score that it is reminiscent of Phoenix’ NBA squad.
WNBA records were falling left and right throughout the game as the mark for most points scored in a single quarter of a Finals game was broken by Indiana in the first quarter, tied by Phoenix about a minute later and then broken again by Indiana in the third quarter. Some of the WNBA records that were re-written on Tuesday included: most points in a quarter, most points in a half, most assists in a quarter, most field goals in a game and most points in a game.
"It was fun. Kind of showing a different side of women's basketball -- how high a level it is,” said Diana Taurasi. “It's fun to be in the game and I'm sure it was fun to watch."
While both teams made it a point to run at every opportunity, there were some great matchups to focus on when the teams did set up in the half court. There was Taurasi, the three-time scoring champ that was named the 2009 MVP prior to the game, being hounded throughout the night by Defensive Player of the Year Tamika Catchings? While defense was not the headline in this game, Catchings did a solid job of slowing down Taurasi until she got into foul trouble.
If the MVP and DPOY are not enough, you also had Cappie Pondexter – who finished the year ranked fourth in scoring and assists – shake off a rough first half to close out the Fever by scoring five points in the final 90 seconds of OT? And we’d be remiss to not mention Katie Douglas, who hit the three-pointer with seven seconds to play to send the game to OT and finished with a game-high 30 points. By the way, those four players also finished as the top four in MVP voting this year.
“Anyone that saw this game tonight, saw amazing displays of talent and especially down the stretch,” said Phoenix’s Penny Taylor. “Cappie and Diana had some huge plays as did Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas so it was a real treat for anyone watching the game and proud to be a part of it."
As the game came down to the final minutes of regulation you could feel the intensity increase with every possession. From the players on the court to the fans in the stands, the passion was at an unbelievable level. The crowd was going crazy during the Fever’s final offensive possession in regulation as they were trying to will the Mercury to a defensive stand. When Douglas knocked down the three, you could feel the crowd sink a split second before revving up again as the Mercury had two opportunities to close the game but could not convert.
When DeWanna Bonner’s layup would not fall and neither would Pondexter’s putback, it felt as if this game needed to go to overtime; that the basketball gods put a lid on the hometown goal for a few seconds so that we could be treated to five more minutes of this matchup.
“It's history that we don't like because we lost, but overall I think it was an exciting game,” said Douglas. “It was exciting for the fans and I'm sure it was exciting for the people watching on TV and I feel like both teams just played an enormous amount of talent on the court and it's the biggest stage, it's what we've been working for, to come here and play in the WNBA Finals. It was a lot of fun. You know, I know we lost, I'm disappointed but it was a tremendous atmosphere to be a part of, the growth of the WNBA to be a part of that."
The question now is what will these two teams do for an encore? Game 2 is Thursday night once again in Phoenix and once again fans can get upper level tickets for free, this time they are courtesy of Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. If you know of any doubters that are out there, make sure you get them a ticket and bring them out to the US Airways Center.