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Around the Web: Think Anyone is Feeling Pressure in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals?

In his post yesterday about Game 4, Malcolm Wells challenged the notion that crowd support really matters by noting that many of the players in the WNBA Finals "have played on bigger stages for bigger stakes in the NCAA, the Olympics and abroad."

Fair enough.

January has been the postseason's top rookie - ESPN
INDIANAPOLIS -- Eight years ago, when her current Indiana teammates Katie Douglas and Tammy Sutton-Brown were competing in the NCAA tournament, Fever rookie Briann January was experiencing March Madness in a different way. She was a 14-year-old in the stands at the West Regional in her hometown of Spokane, Wash. There, January watched the player who helped end Sutton-Brown's career at Rutgers and whose own college career ended against Douglas' Purdue squad: Jackie Stiles. Then called Southwest Missouri State, Stiles' squad had defeated the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers in the second round. That sent SMS to Spokane, where it faced top-seeded Duke in the Sweet 16. Stiles scored 41 points in an upset of the Blue Devils. Then SMS beat Washington in the Elite Eight, advancing to the Final Four in St. Louis. There, SMS fell to the Boilermakers in the national semifinals. January remembers watching the West Regional and thinking it was something she wanted to experience someday. Eventually, she would help Arizona State advance to the NCAA Elite Eight twice.

Nevertheless, you have to wonder if there is a little added pressure entering tonight's Game 4, which is a pretty high stakes game for both teams as described by IndyStar writer David Woods.

The Fever will try to win their first WNBA championship in tonight's Game 4 at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Fever lead the best-of-five series 2-1.

If the Mercury win, a decisive Game 5 would be played Friday at Phoenix. The Mercury are 3-0 in elimination games in these playoffs, and they came back from a 2-1 deficit to win the 2007 WNBA title over Detroit.

If the Fever win, Indianapolis would have its first pro basketball championship since the ABA's Pacers in 1973.

In fact, it might feel like a do or die for both teams. The only question might be: who is feeling more pressure?

NBA Betting: Indiana -2 catches championship fever and closes out Phoenix in Game 4 - NBA Betting - Free NBA Betting Articles
I feel tonight is as much a must-win game for the Fever as it is for the Mercury. Traveling to Phoenix for a Game 5 on one day’s rest would clearly not be in any series leading team’s best interest and would put the championship in doubt after two emotional wins in a row. Although the Fever won Game 2 in Phoenix, it will be a tall order to have it happen again in a series deciding Game 5 in a spot that could have the Fever’s defense softer than usual. This should give Indiana a lot of focus tonight and the chance of having 18,000 home fans witness the winning of a championship instead of such uncertainty with what one more game in Phoenix would bring.

What might end up deciding this game is one of those "players that come out of the blue."

Gaines, Mercury looking for 'spark'
Taurasi said January has "changed the pace" in the past two games; Hoffman has stepped up to a level that could earn her MVP honors of the Finals if the Fever win. Mercury coach Corey Gaines said he thinks someone out of the ordinary will be the catalyst Wednesday night. The question is, who? "Somebody asked me a long time ago 'What's the difference in a game like this,' " he said. "Is it the key players? No, it's the players that come out of the blue. "I've seen it my whole life. Someone rises up and does something special."

It's situations like this that make watching any professional sports league special.

The Daily Beacon
Every time she steps onto the court, she thinks about a person in the crowd — an undefined someone who has never before seen a women’s basketball game, who has never witnessed the excitement and hustle of a WNBA competition. When the game is over, she vows to herself that someone in the crowd may not remember the final score, the last-second shots or the statistics. But there is one thing the newcomer will not forget: the hustle and determination of the small forward in the No. 24 jersey. This is the thought that runs through the mind of Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings before each and every game. "I love this game, and I think you can see the passion that I have for this game," she said.

Both Wells and petrel at the Pleasant Dreams blog have also suggested that there may not be any long-term impact on attendance as a result of the increased attention during the WNBA Finals. However, the short-term impact extends beyond just filling seats.

Fever fans multiply | IndyStar.com | The Indianapolis Star
Said local sports marketer Ray Compton: "The Fever have fertilized the soil, and now the rain has come and the thing is exploding." The outside-the-box Compton, who in the last three decades has marketed the Pacers, the Colts and the Ice, once attracted fans to an Ice game by staging a men's belching competition. "Indianapolis is a tough sell," he said. "It'll be interesting to see the (Fever's) next chapter. Will the same people be back the next year?" For now, at least, the fans are plentiful, and they're stoked. Conseco's gift shop was mobbed Sunday with Fever T-shirt buyers -- "our biggest day ever, substantially," said shop manager Gary Nelson.

In fact, the Conseco Fieldhouse gift shop set records over the past week.

Fever look to clinch playoffs tonight - WTHR |
Fans also helped set records in the gift shop at Conseco Fieldhouse. Retail sales here have always been one of the highest in the WNBA, with value package deals during the season and game night specials. But the finals frenzy this week has boosted sales to a whole new level. Store employees have been busy restocking the shelves. "On a normal game, we would probably sell 100 T-shirts in our store and souvenir stands, and we sold almost 800 Sunday, so that's an example of the type of business we've had," said Gary Nelson, director of merchandise and retail for the Fever. "Last game, we offered a finals T-shirt for $10 and we sold 300 of them by halftime so that was part of our success."

Indianapolis sports fans are supporting their team in droves and it continues to change the minds of haters...even as they struggle with the phenomenon internally.

1070 The Fan - Indy's Sportscenter
It is not in my DNA to care about the Indiana Fever and WNBA. The women's game is slow and played well below the rim. The crowds are sparse most of the time feeding the notion that this is a product built to allow owners to turn the lights on and sell concessions in their arenas for an additional 20-or-so dates every year. In my imagination, David Stern and a group of NBA people in New York sat in a room and answer the need to eliminate the down season from May 1 to October 1 with another product that would compliment, not compete with the NBA. The answer was to produce a product for which there was a very small niche market. "If you build it, they will come," was sweet in "Field of Dreams", but a bit arrogant in the commissioner's office. But I like the Fever. They play their asses off, are very fan friendly, and seem committed to winning. They are skilled as hell, and equally enthusiastic. The Fever are a win tonight away from winning the WNBA Championship, and while that will prompt shrugs outside of Indiana, this is a big deal here.

One of the big keys in this game will be which team can establish offensive momentum...and thus far it has been the Fever, much to the surprise of the experts. Fever coach Lin Dunn has a theory about why that's happened.

Fever offense goes from implosive to explosive | IndyStar.com | The Indianapolis Star
Coach Lin Dunn said the Fever benefited from beating Washington 2-0 and Detroit 2-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs. "We had to work so hard in both of those series to get open and get shots, and I think it's paying off for us in this series," Dunn said. Hoffman said the Fever are not taking ill-advised shots or settling for outside jumpers. They are attacking the basket, she said, and must continue doing so.

Meanwhile, the Mercury might be hoping they get more production from their rookie standout DeWanna Bonner.

WNBA Finals, Game 4: What to Watch For " StormTracker - The Official Blog of the Seattle Storm
Now, Phoenix must win to extend the series and return home for Game 5, and Taurasi used the word "desperate" in talking with reporters yesterday (as reported by ESPN.com’s Mechelle Voepel). It would be a mistake to say that the Mercury needs to make big changes. After all, if Tangela Smith’s buzzer-beater had gone in, Phoenix would be a win away from the championship. The busy Voepel pointed to one of the most important things the Mercury could use tonight: improved production from DeWanna Bonner. The recipient of the WNBA’s Sixth Woman Award has fallen silent during the Finals, averaging 7.7 points on 38.9 percent shooting.