WNBA Finals Preview: A First Blush

Katie Douglas and the Indiana Fever will look to slow down the high octane offense of Cappie Pondexter and the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Finals. Photo by Max Simbron

It seems fitting that the two teams with the the best regular season records will meet in the finals. That probably says as much about the value of home court advantage in a three game series as it does about either team's dominance and yet there's no denying that both Indiana and Phoenix deserve to be in this position.

Much will be written about this series in the coming days but why wait? Let's get this finals discussion rolling.

The Basics Bullets

  • The obvious story of this match up is going to be the offense vs defense debate
  • The Fever were the best defensive team through most of the regular season and have continued that into the playoffs
  • In their 1st two rounds the Fever have continued their stingy ways holding the Dream and Shock to 73.4ppg and 41.2% shooting.
  • The Mercury lead the league in every offensive category during the regular season and were averaging an amazing 100 ppg through their first four playoff games but have come back to earth (just a bit) and are down to 93.4 ppg
  • The Fever are led on both ends by their two stars: Temika Catchings, the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year and Katie Douglas who combines outside shooting with the ability to drive and finish with power and toughness
  • Behind Douglas and Catchings, the Fever have gotten great production from their versatile center Tammy Sutton-Brown and solid effort from forward Ebony Hoffman. The back court time is split between veteran Aussie Tully Bevilaqua and rookie Briann January who returns to Phoenix after four great years with the ASU Sun Devils. Both are solid players with the ability to do great things at times but neither will carry their team
  • Those six players have accounted for 86% of the Fever's available minutes during the first two rounds and exposes one of their team's weaknesses. Lack of depth
  • The Mercury of course, follow likely MVP Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter with the deepest bench in the league which should again be an advantage if the Mercury can continue their high-paced ways
  • Tangela Smith and Le'Coe Willingham have both stepped up in the playoffs and Temeka Johnson has been a perfect compliment to her team's stars. Penny Taylor was the savior of the 1st round and coming off the bench provides an almost unfair advantage facing either second unit players or tired starters. Rookie DeWanna Bonner had a sub-par conference finals series but her energy combined with Nicole Ohlde's solid post play will round out the rotation along with the speedy Ketia Swanier who is averaging about 11 mpg
  • The Mercury are a complete offensive team that can score inside in the post, shoot from range and attack off the dribble. You can try and take away one or two of their weapons but nobody has been able to consistently shut them down.

That's the basics but you probably already knew that if you are enough of a WNBA fan to be reading this site. Where it gets interesting is when you think about what each team will have to do to win the series and the championship.

Pace is the name of the game

For the Fever to win this series they will have to find a way slow down the Mercury attack. That means pressuring the ball in the back court and actively looking to deny the vertical outlet pass. Even more important they will have to limit turn overs and find a way to dominate the glass. They cannot afford to give Phoenix extra possessions and hope to win.

In the playoffs so far, the two best rebounding teams were the Shock and Sparks who have now been sent home. Behind them come the Mercury with a rebounding differential of -1.33 and then the Fever at -2.8. That will have to change for Indiana. They will need to absolutely and consistently dominate the boards to win this series.

The best way to slow down Phoenix is to use a lot of clock and then score the ball. If at any point the Fever let themselves get baited into a back and forth high tempo game they will be playing right into the Mercury's hands.

Compared to the length and size they faced against the Sparks, the Mercury should be much more comfortable against a more "normal" sized team in the Fever.

While the long arms of the Sparks were able to deny a lot of Taylor's and Pondexter's shots in the lane, the Fever will need to use a combination of speed and razor sharp rotations. The problem is that Phoenix is such a good passing team that if you are forced to help they will almost always find the open shooter and at FG% .488  in the playoffs they aren't likely to miss.

Prediction

So far, the Mercury have not been beaten in a game that they've played well and they've won a couple that they didn't.

Their biggest challenge seems to be a bit of over confidence which might have lead them to come out slow and not play at a 100% energy level in their two losses. They say they've learned from that and are counting on the "big stage" of the finals to provide the mental boost that they seem to need at times.

The Mercury have proven that they can win games when their three point shots aren't falling and they've shown the ability to absolutely light up the nets from anywhere on the court. When they get after it on the defensive end and move the ball they are virtually unstoppable.

As good a defensive team as the Fever are, I don't think they have the firepower to keep up with Phoenix or enough size to completely dominate the glass.

Phoenix in 4

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