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Around the Web: Confidence Abounds About Maintaining the Tempo, But What About the Attendance?

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Phoenix basketball fans, we have a challenge for you, should you choose to accept it:

Don’t let those of us watching Game 2 of the WNBA Finals on ESPN see empty seats.

As you probably already know, after the Phoenix Mercury’s thrilling 120-116 victory over the Indiana Fever, Phoenix Sun’s coach Alvin Gentry stepped up to provide more free tickets for Game 2.

Suns Coach Alvin Gentry Giving Away 7,000 Tickets to Tomorrow's Mercury vs. Fever WNBA Finals Game - Phoenix News - Valley Fever
Following Suns and Mercury GM Steve Kerr's lead, Gentry has bought out all the upper-level seats for the Phoenix Mercury's match-up against the Indiana Fever for game two of the WNBA finals, and he's giving them away. Valley fans can procure up to eight free tickets each at the US Airways box office by mentioning "Gentry's Gallery." The free tickets will be available up until tip-off, or while supplies last. The game, which starts at 6 p.m. here on Thursday, is the second game of a best-of-five series for the WNBA Championship.

So here’s some motivation to show up to the game, courtesy of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (h/t @JaydaEvans).

Pardon the Interruption (09-30-09) | Bombastic Sports
Tickets Being Given Away WNBA Finals

Mike: I think it’s sad.

Tony: I'm not going to deal with the should be. This is a league that is failing and it has great players. People aren’t going to it and it’s going to end soon. Women’s leagues don’t make it.

"It is sad. Surprisingly both had enlightened position on the WNBA’s demise."

**Update**: Bombastic Sports didn't necessarily quote PTI directly. Click here to download the full audio or click here to find the 9/30 PTI show and listen online. The WNBA comments are at 11:55.

The "people aren't going to it" argument is only enhanced when tickets are given away and we still see empty seats.

Britball: Why the WNBA makes us feel better about the BBL
If you've never seen the WNBA, then you should. It's terrific basketball and it's a shame the NBA has never bundled it into its numerous television deals in the UK. But here's the rub. The official attendance at the American Airways Center in Phoenix was just 7,200. And that's DESPITE the fact that Suns GM, Steve Kerr, bought up 7,000 tickets and gave them away free on a first-come, first-served basis. Now here is a league that has had some kind of national television deal since its inception. It's got the best (female) basketballers in the world. They've spent millions on marketing it, not to mention the rub it (theoretically) gets from its link with the NBA.

Although the public endorsement of the league by NBA executives and ex-players is a nice symbolic gesture, it can easily be interpreted as an act of desperation. When something perceived as an act of desperation is met with empty seats…well… then it does sort of look like people simply don’t care about the sport at all.

Therefore, if you live anywhere near U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix and are interested enough in the league to be reading this blog, then you should be filling a seat tonight at 6 pm. And bring a friend -- it's free for them too.

Regardless of people’s arbitrary interpretations of the league’s current vitality, Game 1 of the WNBA Finals was a success story in terms of television ratings. And good news for the WNBA's ratings is good news for ESPN too, isn't it?

NBA.com: Ratings for Game 1 of WNBA Finals up 39 percent
Ratings and viewership for Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on ESPN2 were up 39 percent (.43 rating vs. .31 rating for Game 1 of the '08 WNBA Finals) and 59 percent respectively (555,000 viewers vs. 348,000 viewers), making Game 1 the most viewed WNBA game on cable since Game 4 of the '07 WNBA Finals (Shock vs. Mercury) on ESPN2 (669,000).

Nevertheless, the WNBA is still some distance away from the type of playoff ratings the MLS or NHL get.

Pleasant Dreams - An Atlanta Dream Blog: Ratings Jump for Game One of WNBA Finals
Then again, at the end of the article, MLS and the NHL have much more viewers for their finals than the WNBA does - even though the WNBA either matches or exceeds those leagues in the regular season. Apparently, there are more casual viewers for MLS and the NHL who will only turn their attention to those leagues during the finals, as if they were waking up out of a torpor. I think the WNBA would kill to have that last-minute finals rush.

However, whether attendance and ratings can increase should be secondary after a subjectively and statistically historic Game 1. The real question is whether the Mercury and Fever can maintain or increase the quality of play – not to mention the pace -- in Game 2...and the players' responses have been fun.

Common sense would seem to indicate that there has got to be a drop-off in performance after such a phenomenal Game 1. That would include the Fever slowing down.

Mercury’s fire, Fever’s thermometer to cool off and go Under 180 in Game 2 - NBA Betting - Free NBA Free Picks
Although I am all for a bounceback by a visiting underdog in Game 2 of a series, Indiana’s only real chance tonight is to slow down the tempo of the game which will be difficult. With the Mercury having the worst defense in the WNBA giving up an average of 89 points per game, they will sometimes leave open chances for opponents to run and gun – and the Fever showcased some offense on Tuesday because of it. But the end result showed that Phoenix is just that much better of a team and that Fever coach Lin Dunn’s losing record in playoff games left a loss in overtime as no real surprise down the stretch.

However, as competitors if the members of the Fever and Mercury didn’t think they were the best before they stepped onto the court every night they wouldn’t be competing for a championship.

But claiming they could play even better? Seriously?

Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury want Game 2 to be played even faster - ESPN
That's right, after the highest-scoring game in WNBA history -- a 120-116 Mercury victory in overtime -- Taurasi was lamenting that it wasn't really fast enough. "We have to get in that mode where it wears on them a little bit more," Taurasi said of the Fever. "Because last night, they were as fresh as daisies." Well, that's an exaggeration. By game's end, the Fever's players didn't quite look like they'd just been put in the vase. There was some drooping. Still, Fever coach Lin Dunn and her players say they aren't worried about wilting. "I don't get it -- this is our pace," Dunn said of the suggestion that Indiana must slow things waaaaaaaaaaaaay down to have a chance to win Game 2. "We push the ball. We don't usually play other teams that push the pace, too, like we do. So, therefore, when you get the two of us together, you can expect a higher-scoring game. Why would we change the pace when we shoot 55 percent from the field?" Um … perhaps because you can't count on shooting 55 percent all the time? Nonetheless, Dunn maintains that the Fever's biggest concern is not the tempo of the game.

(Don’t forget to tell ESPN.com how much you liked Voepel’s article. And yes, I’m telling you to like it.)

Fever coach Lin Dunn insists that the pace was not the problem.

Fever: Pace isn't a problem; mistakes are | IndyStar.com | The Indianapolis Star
The game's fast pace, coach Lin Dunn contended, was not the problem. She blamed the loss on "inexcusable fouls," poor rebounding and soft defense. "All the things that put (Phoenix) in position to win the game are things that we can correct," Dunn said. Fever forward Ebony Hoffman conceded that the Mercury "bait'' opponents into taking quick shots, waiting for them to miss so the Mercury can initiate fast breaks. She, too, said the pace was not the problem. "Our one-on-one defense was terrible," Hoffman said. "They had way too many offensive boards, which is insulting to us."

Phoenix coach Corey Gaines welcomes the idea of continuing to go up-tempo.

WNBA Notebook: Can Indiana Keep Up? -- NBA FanHouse
Indiana will run at its own peril from here on out. "That's our style," Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said. "I don't want the score to be 75-72. If you play your style, you have the best chance to win. I'd rather go high (scoring) than low." The Fever proved they are capable of playing up-tempo, of busting out a big offensive night, even if it is not advisable ...

But aside from the confidence of each team’s stars and coaches, it is the supporting cast members that will make the difference in Game 2.

Taylor key to Mercury's success
Taylor didn't score in overtime, but her 23 points off the bench in regulation helped the Mercury keep up with the Indiana Fever. Without her, the Mercury wouldn't be up 1-0 in the best-of-five series as they head into Thursday's Game 2 at U.S. Airways Center. It's not a coincidence that the Mercury are back in the Finals with Taylor on the floor just like in 2007 when Taylor was an MVP candidate and the Mercury won the title. It's not a coincidence that without Taylor, the Mercury were the first defending champion to miss the playoffs in 2008. Taylor decided to skip the season to concentrate on playing in the Beijing Olympics with the Australian women's national team. "I had to beg her for six months to come back (this season)," Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said. "When she's on this team, we're at this level (in the Finals). And it's no secret."

On the Fever side, forward Ebony Hoffman had the big game in Game 1, but rookie point guard Briann January (a personal favorite) is netting some pre-game press for returning to her adopted hometown.

Ex-ASU star January in Valley for WNBA finals | Mercury / WNBA | eastvalleytribune.com
January nearly pulled out Game 1 for the Fever, who fell 120-116 in overtime on Tuesday night. The former Sun Devil was key during crunch time, making a driving layup with 47.8 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 102. In the Fever's final possession, she got the ball to star Tamika Catchings, who was whistled for an offensive foul. She finished the night with 11 points and seven assists in 27 minutes, the most of a nonstarter. Not bad for the guard who just a few months ago was running the ASU offense - as she had for four seasons.

Did I say she was a rookie? Well, although she will certainly get better as the season wears on, she has been looking more and more like a veteran on the court.

Phoenix Like Home for Indiana's January -- NBA FanHouse
"I don't consider her a rookie anymore," Dunn said. "She has come off the bench and won some games for us. She's a tough defender, she plays hard. She brings a lot to our team." January said she's not feeling any pressure playing in her adopted hometown. She and Dunn talked on the topic the first time the Fever played in Phoenix earlier in the season. "I don't think there's pressure at all. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and whatever happens, happens," January said. "I'm going to leave everything on the court, and when you play like that, there's no pressure on yourself."

Mercury guard Ketia Swanier is getting some love as well.

Swanier has risen again with Mercury; on brink of a title - Sports - Ledger-Enquirer.com
Just a day after the Sun let go of the former Columbus High and University of Connecticut star, the Phoenix Mercury signed her. Four months later, Swanier is two wins away from a WNBA championship after a Game 1 overtime win against the Indiana Fever on Tuesday. "Actually, it makes me think everything happens for a reason," Swanier said, recalling the day she was cut. "I think this team is a better fit for my style of play. I don’t look at it like saying, ‘Oh, I got cut,’ because I got signed by a great team and I’m in the finals. I knew it would work out for me."

More articles:

Fever Struggle To Survive :: Indianapolis News Blog | Rich Nye
If you have to give away 9,000 tickets to the biggest game in franchise history, that doesn’t say much for the support of the Indiana Fever. That was the scenario last Saturday when the Fever beat the Detroit Shock to advance to the WNBA Finals for the first time and Larry Bird bought out the balcony. Conseco Fieldhouse was nearly full, an announced sellout. The crowd was loud. The atmosphere was great. I was there, and it was an awesome celebration as the Fever were crowned Eastern Conference champions. The Fever are not unique in struggling to attract paying fans. Steve Kerr of the Pheonix Suns front office gave away 7,000 tickets to game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Tuesday. The Mercury won the championship just two seasons ago.