Prior to Game 4 of the 2009 WNBA Finals, WNBA.com's Mark Bodenrader talked with ESPN women's basketball experts Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck to get their thoughts on what has happened so far in the series and what to expect the rest of the way.
WNBA.com: First off, give us your thoughts on what has transpired in the Finals so far. Are you surprised that Indiana has been able to win the last two games after dropping the opener?
“Indiana has surprised me the entire playoffs. I didn’t realize they not only had the offensive firepower to put up this many points, but that they also had the will to play this kind of tempo. They’ve been terrific. It’s been a surprising series in that regard, especially after their game one loss. I didn’t think they’d be in the driver’s seat heading into Game 4. It’s going to be another fun game to watch. The way (Tamika) Catchings is playing defensively on Diana Taurasi, the way Ebony Hoffman has stepped up and Briann January, they’ve been terrific. And Katie Douglas and Catch have been their normal outstanding selves. But tonight, the tempo in terms of who gets to the free throw line is going to be a big key. Phoenix needs to get more free throws. Indiana has controlled things by getting to the free throw line themselves. You never want to talk about how the game is going to be called, but it is going to be a big factor in the outcome of tonight’s game.”
WNBA.com: Have you ever seen Taurasi go through a stretch like this in which she's had three bad shooting games in a row? What do you think is the cause of it?
“The biggest thing that has surprised me is Indiana’s ability to shoot a high field-goal percentage and the way they’ve been able to score, especially when you look at just pure numbers from what they did in the regular season. But when you talk to Coach (Lin) Dunn, she attributes a lot of that to tough defense that you face in the East. You’ve got to get open against Alana Beard or Deanna Nolan or the brute power of Detroit's Cheryl Ford and Kara Braxton down low. I never thought there would be over 200 and some points scored in Game 1. But then when Indiana came back and was able to score points and take Game 2, I knew that these games were going to be very interesting here because Indiana is good at home.
"But my expectation for tonight is…Diana Taurasi is best when she is, let’s say aggravated and her back is against the wall. That’s when big-time players play. Someone actually Tweeted about Taurasi her freshman year (at Connecticut when she didn’t win the NCAA title). But, do you also remember her sophomore, junior and senior years? Because that’s when it was like she said I'm never going to let that freshman year situation happen again. You look at Taurasi’s numbers, most people in the league would still like to have those numbers, but they are still not Diana Taurasi numbers. Indiana has done a tremendous job and they have their sixth man with this crowd here. It was incredible for Game 3. But I think that they are going to have to play a near perfect game in order to win the championship. Otherwise, we go back to Phoenix.”
“The explanation is she’s being defended by the best defender in the WNBA. And she’s also missed some shots. The thing with Dee is her demeanor is the same whether she has come off of three 30-point performances. She might be a little bit more determined tonight and that’s a good thing for Phoenix because of the way she plays. But I don’t think she’s the type of player whose confidence sort of ebbs and flows with the last shot. She just knows how to play. Can she break out of it? I don’t know because it’s not a slump; it’s been good defense.”
WNBA.com: It seems now that Catchings simply is refusing to let her team lose. Can you talk a bit about the series she's having for Indiana?
“She’s the MVP of the league for a reason. She’s a great player. But you’ve got to compliment Tamika Catchings. She’s not allowing anything easy, so you really can’t get into a rhythm. The thing that Catchings does very well is she switches up how she guards Taurasi. You’ve got two great basketball minds trying to out-counter move each other. With Taurasi, somebody says their scheme is you’re going to lock and trail or chase her off a screen, or you’re going to shoot the gap. She can predetermine and find ways to get there. Even when Catchings is late or gets hung on a screen, Indiana’s doing a great job of having that next level of defense, so when she gets that open shot it’s such a rarity. She hasn’t been able to get into that rhythm. But tonight I expect, regardless from where she has to shoot from, she’s going to create opportunities to score.”
“She’s been phenomenal. She was great against Washington. Then she had a little bit of struggles against Detroit but everybody else stepped up and now she’s been phenomenal in this series. Catchings and Katie Douglas have both played at the top of their game, and then you have other people who have elevated their game. Ebony Hoffman in particular. She was slumping a little bit at the end of the season and all of the sudden she’s showing everything that she can do. Briann January has been pretty consistent all season, but then in the month of the September she started playing better and better and then in these Finals, especially as a rookie, has been outstanding. Jessica Moore is doing what they need her to do, which is defend, make lay-ups, rebound. Every player seems like they are really doing what they need to do in their own roles, and then a few players are bringing it up a notch, with Ebony and Briann being two of those.”
WNBA.com: What do you expect in Game 4 tonight here in Indiana?
“Defensive Player of the Year is one thing. But then also the things that she does on the court, driving to the basket, her strength, her size. Even Diana Taurasi said if you were to build the perfect basketball player you would build her like Tamika Catchings. With her strength and her athleticism, her mind for the game, and the person that she is, she’s just a fierce competitor. She’s been a tremendous leader for the Fever.”
“I thought the test was going to be Game 3. The Fever were going to play in front of 18,000 people in the Finals for the first time and they responded tremendously. I think you’re going to have a very similar atmosphere to Game 2 and Game 3. The crowd’s going to be into it and it’s going to be a well-played game by both teams. It will probably come down like Game 3 did to the last possession. Phoenix had a few chances to win it and that would have turned the tide a little bit. So, it’s going to be very similar that.”
“After having the first three games to watch, it’s going to be just as exciting. You look at the situations: Game 1, Phoenix has got to win at home. Game 2, Indiana has to win that one to even the series coming home. Game 3, Indiana’s got to win that because you’ve got a sell-out crowd. You’ve got to convince your city, your team and yourself that you can be here. Now in Game 4, Phoenix is facing elimination. The tide turns there. That’s why I expect this to be just as an exciting ballgame as the first three.”