Highest-scoring game one of best ever
Indiana almost beats Mercury at Phoenix's own game in fantastic start to Finals
PHOENIX -- At some point late in watching the movie "Julie & Julia," I realized I just couldn't stop smiling. "How long have I been doing this?" I thought. "Since the opening credits, right?"
While I couldn't stand the food -- hey, when you're a vegetarian, French cooking is like pure evil -- watching the incomparable Meryl Streep and the effervescent Amy Adams was its own kind of nourishment.
I felt the same way during Phoenix's 120-116 "could you believe that game?" overtime victory against Indiana in the opening game of the best-of-five WNBA Finals on Tuesday.
This is actually when it's probably the most fun to not be a fan -- to just be able to "ooh" and "ahh" about every great play, without any of them making you almost have a heart attack the way it is when you have a rooting interest.
"It was pretty special," said Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, who earlier in the day received the league's MVP award. "It felt like there was one stretch there where no one missed a shot that needed to made. I'm sure the fans thought that was a nice display of basketball."
Nice? Oh, that doesn't begin to describe it. Whatever adjectives one could give this contest, none of them would be hyperbole. The teams combined to score the most points of any game in WNBA history, playoff or regular season. And more than once during this game, I was smiling like a goofy jack-o'-lantern. It was just that entertaining to watch.
"This was right at the top," Phoenix's Penny Taylor said when asked where this game ranked in terms of the most high-quality contests she'd been involved in. "There was just so much unbelievable, pure talent. You could feel it out there. The plays being made -- I was in awe of some of them, especially down the stretch. It was so fun to be a part of."
The teams combined for 83 field goals in a game that shattered all kinds of offensive records and any notion that the Fever were "just" a defensive team. But the big question now will be whether Indiana can recover from coming so close to "stealing" one on the road -- and almost beating the Mercury at Phoenix's own game.
"We're a veteran group with several players who've been in the finals before," said Indiana's Katie Douglas, who had more points than anybody in this scorefest (30) and sent the game to overtime on a 3-pointer with seven seconds left. "We came in relaxed, and that's why we played extremely well. We've just gotta stay positive; we're in this together and there's no need to put our heads down. It's still a long series ahead."
It might surprise you that there really were no long faces in the Indiana locker room, especially not from Douglas, who missed another game-tying 3-pointer near the end of the overtime.
You might think that coming so close in this fashion would have devastated Indiana, but it just didn't seem that way at all. Credit that to the team's experience, as Douglas said, but also to the fact that the Fever lost their opening game of the Eastern Conference finals on the road at Detroit but still won the three-game series.
And while the Indiana players likely did not know this, the reality is that winning the first game of the Finals hasn't necessarily been the best omen for teams. In the last six WNBA Finals, only twice has the Game 1 winner gone on to take the title.
Of course, it's one thing for the Fever players to say they were not discouraged; it's another to see how well they actually play in Game 2 on Thursday. Then again, the Phoenix players are going to be wary because they didn't play well in their second game of the Western Conference finals.
"Each game could lend itself to something different," Taurasi said of this series. "Today was getting up and down. They were feeling it, and they wanted to push and run. And you know we're not going to shy away from that.
"And there were times where they slowed down the tempo, which they might try to do a little more in the next game. But we just have to stay true to who we are."
Actually, the Mercury were even better than usual at one key part of Tuesday's game: rebounding. Phoenix won the battle of the boards 34-27, and the Mercury's 12 offensive rebounds were the first thing Indy coach Lin Dunn pointed out to her team.
"They got 24 second-chance points, they outrebounded us," she said. "And they just shouldn't be doing that."
Guess who grabbed the most rebounds in this game? Taurasi, with nine. She also had six assists to go with her 22 points, but her 5-of-17 shooting from the field is what she might focus on in her perfectionist mode.
Cappie Pondexter had 23 points, including the clinching final free throw in overtime. DeWanna Bonner had 15 points, Tangela Smith 14 and Temeka Johnson 13.
Four of the Fever starters scored in double figures, but that did not include Tamika Catchings. She fouled out with eight points, six rebounds and five assists.
Meanwhile, Ebony Hoffman had a career-high 27 points for Indiana, but she turned her right ankle in the fourth quarter and was forced to the bench for a few critical minutes that Phoenix took advantage of.
"Right now, I'm just icing it and, hopefully, [next game] it won't flare up on me," Hoffman said. "I've always had many ankle sprains; it won't get big. It's going to be painful, but I just have to play through that.
"Tonight might have been my career high, but I would have taken the win and two points instead. It hurts, but I know this team. We're gonna bounce back. We've got a lot of will on this team. But we can't have the score in the 100s and actually think we can beat Phoenix."
Except on Tuesday, the Fever almost did just that.
The Mercury fans had to be happiest after this one was over. But anybody watching had to grin at what a blast this was to witness.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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