- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
INDIANAPOLIS -- Phoenix has been in this position before: needing a win in Game 4 to stay alive in the WNBA Finals. Last time, the Mercury had the advantage of having that game at home.
That was in 2007. Then, however, Phoenix had to go on the road to defeat Detroit in Game 5.
This time, the Mercury have to win here at Conseco Fieldhouse to have the chance to return to Arizona and play for the franchise's second title.
Of what he told his players after Sunday's 86-85 loss to Indiana, coach Corey Gaines said, "I stood there for about three minutes; didn't say a word. Then I said to them, 'It's one game, and I need to get back home. You get that one game for me, for us, we'll be all right.'"
This season, with a league-best record of 23-11, the Mercury never lost three games in a row. That's what they're trying to avoid Wednesday to save their season.
"We've been here before," said Penny Taylor, who got Phoenix's last basket before the Mercury went scoreless in the final two minutes of Sunday's game. "The next game is potentially it for us. We have to get it done."
On Sunday, Phoenix did do a lot of things right, including outrebounding the Fever 36-31, led by 10 boards from Tangela Smith. The Mercury were able to penetrate well and at times played very strong defense.
However, Phoenix only went to the line 12 times, making 10 free throws. The Mercury would like to see their ability to penetrate pay off with more three-point play possibilities, but that's reliant on what the officials call.
"You can't control those sorts of things -- you just go to the basket as hard as you can," Taylor said. "I feel like there were times where we were getting hit on layups and still making the shots. It's unbelievable how strong some of our players are, and maybe that even works against us at times."
What definitely hurt the Mercury on Sunday was the team's struggles from outside the arc. Phoenix made just three 3-point baskets -- its lowest total of 2009 -- out of 17 attempts.
Diana Taurasi, the league's MVP, has struggled uncharacteristically with her shooting in the Finals. In the three games against Indiana, she is at 32.7 percent from the field (18-of-55). In the first six games of the postseason, against San Antonio and Los Angeles, she shot 52.1 percent (50-of-96), and she finished at 46.1 percent (200-of-434) in the regular season.
On Sunday, she was 6-of-16, including 1-of-8 from long range, for 18 points. She had seven rebounds but just one assist.
Cappie Pondexter, who led Phoenix with 23 points and eight assists, said she thought the Mercury had fought harder in Game 3 than even previously in the Finals, which made it all the more difficult to lose.
"So I think now," Pondexter said, "it's more mental than anything."
Perhaps, but the Mercury's physical presence has to be stronger, too. Taurasi thought that Phoenix sometimes did a good job of containing penetration and sometimes didn't.
Another issue of concern for Phoenix is DeWanna Bonner, who won the league's Sixth Woman of the Year award but had just two points and one rebound in less than nine minutes of playing time Sunday.
The Mercury will need more from her or someone else if they hope to stay alive on Wednesday in Game 4 (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET).
"For one, we have to come out and play at a level that we haven't played at so far in these Finals, and we know we can," Taurasi said. "That's what got us here.
"We have to do some things on both ends of the court to give us more opportunities. And that stems from getting stops, getting the rebound and getting back to the way we play. If we do that, I think we'll be OK."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
Despite Sunday's loss, the Mercury did a lot of things right in Game 3. But the team's struggles from outside the arc, particularly from Diana Taurasi, hurt the most.