They say in a 5-game series that the odd games are the one's that matter most. The Mercury took the first game and put Indiana on their heals. The Fever responded in Game 2 and here we are with the winner today taking a significant advantage in the journey for the title.
Whichever team loses today I can guarantee you they will say (and believe) that they are still in it, but for my money the winner of today's game will win this series. That's why I dragged my sorry @$$ from the sunny skies of Arizona to the windy and chilly flatness that is Indiana. This is the game that I didn't want to miss. Of course, I didn't want to miss the previous two games and I certainly wouldn't want to miss a game 5 but that's how championship series go. Every game is the most important game which contradicts what I just said and shows just how many knots you can tie yourself in if you think too much about this stuff.
But I stick to my prediction, the winner today will win the ring.
Reading through the quotes from yesterday's practice, it is clear that the Mercury are focused on playing better defense. In both games so far they've come out early and after the half and given up big leads. While they had some success in battling back, they will try and do some very un-Phoenix-like things in this game.
Diana Taurasi explains what her team needs to do, "We need to clean up some things defensively as far as points in the paint and rebounding. On the other end we need to be more patient, our style of play is to go fast but with their defensive schemes we need to have them play out longer into the shot clock."
Defense. Rebounding. Slow things down.
This is exactly why I've always been skeptical that run-and-gun teams can win in the post season. The game is different and teams almost always end up having to adjust to a different pace and do things they aren't comfortable doing.
It might even be something that seems trivial like longer time outs due to national TV which Taurasi talked about, "..the media time outs feel like they have been about nine minutes long. It's like playing with two halftimes these days."
The key for Phoenix is going to be a better defensive performance from Tangela Smith. In the first two series she played very solid D against Wauters and Leslie while so far in this series she's reverted back to her regular season ways of letting other team's post players catch the ball deep in the post where she's unable to prevent their easy looks. Smith needs to be far more active denying the entry pass and running the floor to prevent the early post play that the Fever like to run.
Indiana Coach Lin Dunn thinks that her team is doing a great job. She feels like her team should have won Game 1 and that her defense is responsible for holding Taurasi down. Her only concern seems to be Penny Taylor, "Penny Taylor has been a pain in my...finger. She really is difficult to deal with. We've had matchup problems with her. She is a world renowned player. She was MVP of the World Championships, so her coming off the bench was a real challenge for us."
Taylor will certainly play with her injured tooth. In her dry Aussie style she explained, "I have a beautiful mouth guard. It's a tooth and I don't use it much when I play."
If I were a Fever fan I might be a bit more concerned than that. The chances of Taurasi and Pondexter having another poor shooting game is slim and if the Fever focus too much on Taylor they are going to end up trying to stop DT or CP with single coverage which is simply not possible. Taylor is a great passer and will impact the game even if she's not scoring.
More importantly, in both Games 1 and 2 the Mercury were able to come back from big deficits. Great defensive teams hold leads when they get them. If the Mercury can do a slightly better job on the defensive end and keep from having to use their runs to come back from behind then the Fever will be in big trouble.
The great thing about post season series is that the level of competition is so high and with time and familiarity teams are able to take away what their opponents want to do. Winners are teams that can get it done despite that.
So far, neither team feels like they played well in their losses and neither team is anywhere close to admitting defeat. These are two stubborn bulls clashing horns and today we will see who's will breaks first.
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 10/04/09 12:32 PM MST ]
Pregame chat with Penny Taylor
Penny's mouth looked fine. No huge bloody gash and no swelling. I asked her if she had looked at the tape where she got it, "No, I'm not interested in that. Today's a new day."
Here's what January had to say about the elbow, "Stuff like that you never want to see happen. It's just one of those things. Habit, going up with an arm bar, especially as a guard you've got to protect yourself going against the bigs. I feel so bad about that."
Taylor talked about the mental focus of the Mercury in Game 2 and for today:
"I'm not sure if it was as much the energy as much as it was the focus. They pinpointed specific areas that we were not so great in and we didn't get them done I think defensively we didn't get done what we needed to. We didn't have the right frame of mind. We can't take them lightly. We can't lose focus on what we need to get done defensively....In this game I think we have a better focus. I can see it in their eyes. They've got the focus and they've got the will."
I was not surprised when I asked her about the Fever focusing more on her defensively. Penny said that her team is deep and if they focus too much on her then someone else will step up. I pretty much could have written that quote myself.
Talking to the Mercury assistent coaches they feel that the front line needs to do a better job defending the Fever posts and the guards need to stop the ball in transition and force Indiana to run their half court sets.