Commentary

Merc accomplish mission in Game 4

Mercury overcome Catchings, force Finals to Phoenix for Friday's decisive Game 5

Originally Published: October 7, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Depending on which script you were working off, Game 4 of the WNBA Finals went just as hoped for … or went completely and totally wrong.

For Phoenix, there were three oft-stated goals: get off to a strong start, get Cappie Pondexter to the line more and tighten up the defense.

For Indiana, the objective was to play a bit better than it did Sunday when it won Game 3 to set up a let's-get-ready-to-celebrate atmosphere at Conseco Fieldhouse for Wednesday night.

[+] EnlargeKatie Douglas
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesIndiana shot 11.1 percent from 3-point range, including Katie Douglas' 1-of-7 effort from downtown. She was 2-of-14 from the field.

The 18,000-plus fans in attendance were ready to erupt from tipoff … but the problem for them was, so were the Mercury players. Phoenix won 90-77 and sent the series back to the desert for a decisive Game 5 on Friday (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).

"When we're attacking and aggressive like that, honestly, I don't think any team can beat us," said Pondexter, who had 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds. "I think we showed that tonight. I'm excited we stayed like that for 40 minutes.

"You always want to get off to a strong start, and not be the ones who are trying to claw back into a game. We'd been like that all three [previous] games. But we put them on their heels tonight."

Indeed, Phoenix led 33-22 after one quarter. The light for the Fever seemed to click on in the second quarter, though, and at the break the Mercury led just 49-47.

Another barn burner in this great series, right? It didn't turn out that way. The Fever were still within striking distance going into the fourth quarter, 72-65, but the Mercury never faltered over the final 10 minutes.

"We let our shots that we missed … bother us so that our focus on the other end was not as it should be," Fever coach Lin Dunn said, specifically referring to Katie Douglas and Briann January being a combined 3-of-23 from the field. "When Katie and Bri missed as much as they missed, they got gun-shy. But, of course, we wanted them to keep shooting."

Because what's that old saying? If you're going through hell, keep going? Instead, the Fever players got into an odd kind of hell and they started freezing up. It was just the opposite for Phoenix, which had its back to the wall down 2-1 in the Finals but played with confidence.

Pondexter was 7-of-8 from the free-throw line, and the Mercury went 16-of-19. Phoenix shot 47.8 percent from the field, including 10-of-24 from 3-point range. Along with Pondexter, four other Phoenix players scored in double figures: Penny Taylor had 17, Diana Taurasi and Tangela Smith 16 each, and Temeka Johnson 10.

Catchings Tamika Catchings always has been known for her high-energy style, but Wednesday she played at super-hero level. All that was missing from this Wonder Woman performance was the invisible plane.

"We got back to what we do pretty well," said Taurasi, who was 7-of-16 from the field. "But nothing's easy, and it shouldn't be. It's hard, and Game 5 will probably be 10 times harder for everyone."

Well, it's difficult to imagine it won't be harder for Indiana than for Phoenix, which gets to go home with the momentum. The Fever, poised to win the franchise's first WNBA title and do it in front of a packed house, had a night to remember from Tamika Catchings, but one to forget from Douglas.

Catchings always has been known for her high-energy style, but Wednesday she played at super-hero level. All that was missing from this Wonder Woman performance was the invisible plane.

"She really wants to win a championship," Dunn said. "She has this enormous will to win. There are times she can get frustrated with her teammates when they don't have that same will. If she's rotating and rotating [on defense] and the last one is a step late, that's frustrating for her.

"She wants everyone to be as relentless as she is. And, you know, there's not very many people in this world that are as relentless as she is."

Catchings had 24 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals. She saved bad passes from becoming turnovers; she helped in every way possible on defense. She was so omnipresent that you expected her to yank the T-shirt gun out of Freddy Fever's hands at timeouts and start launching the freebies into the crowd, too. Hey, she was doing everything else.

[+] EnlargeTangela Smith
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty ImagesTangela Smith hit all three of her 3-point attempts in the first quarter as Phoenix scored a WNBA Finals-record 33 points in the period.

"Getting ready for the game, I couldn't take a nap because I was so excited," Catchings said. "It's like you come out and put all your energy out there."

Catchings said she had several family members on hand, including her grandmother, who came in from Abilene, Texas, and was seeing Tamika play in person for just the second time.

Even without a victory, her grandma most assuredly saw Catchings at her best. However, the same couldn't be said for the rest of the Fever. Ebony Hoffman had 17 points and eight rebounds, so she did her part. Tammy Sutton-Brown had 12 points but missed a few close-in shots that might have left some Fever fans bald from pulling their hair out.

January, who played so well in Game 3, struggled, as mentioned, with her shooting from the field (1-of-9). But she was 6-of-8 from the line to finish with eight points.

And it was just a nightmare evening for Indianapolis' own Douglas. Talk about shifts in the script: It was supposed to be an uplifting, triumphant drama for Douglas, but it turned into a horror movie.

Douglas said "nobody felt worse" than she did, and you can definitely believe that after her 2-of-14 (1-of-7 from long range) shooting night. She finished with seven points.

"I think maybe she might have let the missed shots bother her," Dunn said. "You know how instead of thinking of the next shot you're going to hit? Maybe she was thinking of the last shot. And that's not like her."

Phoenix had been in this position two years ago at the Finals, needing victories in the fourth and fifth games to secure the title. Then, the Mercury won Game 4 at home and clinched the championship in Detroit.

Having experienced that -- plus having lost at home once already this series -- the Mercury were wary about seeming too upbeat afterward. Because, despite the disappointment the Fever players felt Wednesday, they still have a chance to win this championship if they do to Phoenix what the Mercury did to Detroit in 2007.

"We're not celebrating," Taurasi said. "All we did was match them at 2-2. We still haven't done much. But today was just a good feeling for the team to go out there and play hard.

"They're going to come out and play another great basketball game. And we're going to have to do the same."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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