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Around the Web: Have the 2009 Finals Brought the WNBA Closer to a Tipping Point?

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If Game 5 attendance repeats the sell-out attendance of Game 2, then the 2009 WNBA Finals will become the most attended Finals series of all time.

It seems that there is no better way to underscore the anticipation, excitement, and significance of Game 5.

Of course, the final and deciding game of any sports season is always bittersweet for fans.

However, if the first four games of this year's WNBA Finals are any indication, the end of this series could very well be a celebration of how far the WNBA has come.

Decisive Game 5 a fitting end to spectacular WNBA Finals - ESPN
...this year's Finals seem to have brought the WNBA closer to the tipping point of being more a part of the fall sports fabric, as league president Donna Orender put it. Certainly, a record-breaking 120-116 Phoenix victory in overtime to open the Finals got the series off to a blazing start. It has also helped that the Finals have included the league MVP, Taurasi, for the first time since Lisa Leslie and the Los Angeles Sparks won the best-of-three series in 2001. Plus, this series -- which had more than 18,000 fans attend Games 3 and 4 in Indiana -- has included dynamic scorers such as Taurasi and Pondexter, two other popular do-it-all players in Phoenix's Penny Taylor and Indiana's Tamika Catchings, plus top rookies DeWanna Bonner (Mercury) and Briann January (Fever).

I suppose it's slightly ironic to use a phrase used by Malcolm Gladwell to describe the situation, but tonight's game 5 just has the feeling of something special, something that resembles a story to enjoy rather than merely a cause to politely support.

Fever's season comes down to tonight | | The Indianapolis Star
The Fever's mission resembles that of Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals. As the Bulls boarded a plane after a home loss, Jordan wore dark glasses and puffed on a cigar. "Let's go to Phoenix and kick some (tail)," he said. The Bulls finished off the Suns. Finishing off the Mercury might be more difficult.

It's just good stuff and I almost hesitate to urge people who have not watched a game to watch tonight because part of what makes the anticipation of this game so great -- and almost paralyzing for me today -- is the build-up of the past four games, as Phoenix Stan captured so well in his post yesterday. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus puts it in perspective for us.

Basketball Prospectus | Giving the WNBA a Second Look
This post is long overdue. In fact, for many of you, it probably comes too late. The deciding Game 5 of the WNBA Finals is tonight (9:00 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2), and my plan to extend the series to best-of-nine has thus far fallen on deaf ears. You might have plans on a Friday night, or you might be watching the baseball playoffs. If not, the matchup between the Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury is well worth the look. This series has been riveting for hard-core WNBA fans like myself as well as newcomers to the women’s game. While I may be biased as an employee of a WNBA team, here’s a sampling of what some other NBA analysts (and friends of BP) have had to say about the WNBA this season.

The series as a whole -- and really the positive press surrounding the entire season from NBA analysts -- is what makes this Game 5 seem almost overwhelmingly exciting.

It's a series that has been competitive, physical, and aggressive but also players not competing for accolades, but out of simple passion for the game.

Cappie Pondexter helps keep Phoenix Mercury's season alive in WNBA Finals - ESPN
If Pondexter minds being the perceived "first mate" to "captain" Diana Taurasi on the Good Ship Mercury, you would never know. For one thing, Taurasi would be the first to say Phoenix would sink just as quickly without Pondexter as it would without her. Besides, Pondexter isn't fueled by a need for glory, nor does she really care much how the accolades are distributed. What does motivate her is the joy that basketball provides, how the game has brought so many good things to her life.

Part of what makes this series so exciting is the very presence of the Phoenix Mercury, whose up-tempo style makes them both the league's best "gateway" team for those yet to consider themselves fans and one of the most dominant teams in the WNBA.

Elimination games not new to Mercury
On Wednesday, it was about getting back to what the Mercury do best. Attack until the Fever fail to keep up. Both teams started off strong. Indiana opened the game shooting 70.0 percent (7 of 10) from the field and Phoenix opened by shooting 83.3 percent (10 of 12) and the Mercury led 49-47 at the half. "Getting off to a fast start helps us maintain our energy and gets our juices flowing," Mercury point guard Temeka Johnson said after Wednesday's game. "When we start fast, we play well."

Nevertheless, the Fever have stayed with them step for step in this series almost making the idea that the Mercury can run them off the court seem problematic.

Fever and Mercury go Over and out in Game 5 finale to end WNBA season
Although the Fever’s Tamika Catchings has been the top defensive player in the league this season, defeating the Mercury tonight will be more about putting the ball in the hoop. Following Game 4’s defeat, coach Lin Dunn of the Fever said "what we need to do is score 93 while they score 90" and she knows it will take knocking down more three point shots tonight to have a chance at winning the championship. Ebony Hoffman of the Fever was quoted after Game 4 as saying "we settled for the three-pointer…we have a lot more weapons than shooting three’s". Despite the Fever having one of the lowest shooting percentages in the league all season, it can all change against an opponent like Phoenix and some better scoring opportunities should be there tonight with the right adjustments.

Look for a summary of this morning's shoot around in Phoenix for more in-depth analysis of the game.

I got distracted this morning partially because of work and partially because I encountered some of that typical male backlash to the WNBA this morning.

I suppose it makes sense that even as one of the greatest WNBA seasons to date comes to a close, there is still a low decibel hum of haterade in response to enthusiasm about the WNBA Finals...or the very idea of women playing basketball.

So I'll respond indirectly by saying this: some of the most intelligent observers of basketball have paid enough attention to the WNBA this season to know that they either should be watching Game 5 or remaining silently indifferent. In that regard, there might be a double tipping-point for the WNBA: first, getting to the point where people recognize that the open disdain and unsupported critique makes them sound silly and second, finding its way into the fabric of fall sports.

The "old boys network" and those who aspire to obtain membership aren't going anywhere, but at least we can say that this season has really put a dent in their ancient critiques.