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WNBA Finals: Game 5 Pre-game Interviews

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Pre game huddle
Pre game huddle

Winning all the marbles in the world can't come close to what a victory will mean tonight for whichever of these two fantastic WNBA finalists are able to prevail.

Behind the scenes staff are preparing for either eventuality with two sets of championship hats and shirts and bottles of champagne chilling in one of the arena's many walk-in coolers. An alternate "off stage" location for a trophy presentation is set up in case of an Indiana Fever victory with the ceremony taking place on the court if the Phoenix Mercury wins.

The players and coaches of both teams are prepared and excited and ready to go. Penny Taylor said at shoot around that she wished the game would start immediately and the Fever players were screaming their excitement during their pre-practice warm up drills.

It shouldn't be any surprise that as close as these two teams have been on the court their approach to this final game still is miles apart.

Fever coach Lin Dunn thinks that her team will win 95-90 and feels like her offense is the key while the Mercury are talking about rebounding and stopping dribble penetration.

You heard that right. The best defensive team in the league fells like they need to score more points to win the ring and the best offensive team in league history is focused on getting stops.

Nothing else I could possibly say demonstrates how competitive and hard fought this series has been. You have two stubborn coaches who fully understand just how good their opponent is and how important it is for them to be marginally better in the weaker areas of their game in order to become the champion.

That is exactly what a Finals series should be about.

Mercury superstar scoring machine Diana Taurasi has had her biggest impact on the defensive end and is leading her team with 7 rebounds per game. She said this about their ability to disrupt the Fever's interior offense, "You know if we eliminate that it makes life a lot easier for us. The worst thing is when you play really good defense and then give up something easy around the rim. It deflates the team and stops our transition so we've been doing a better job of keeping them in front and keeping them out of the paint."

Coach Dunn totally disagrees, "I don't think they've done a good job denying the entry pass at all. I think we've been able to go inside at will man or zone."

What Dunn thinks her team needs to improve on is their decision making and reacting to what the Mercury defense gives.

Of course Mercury coach Corey Gaines has something to say about how teams have attacked his zone, "We adjust to it. It's called a Rover for a reason. It's a changing defense. It's not like there's set rules for anything. When the rules are set you can't change the rules so then when the other team adjusts to that you can't adjust."

So you've got Coach Dunn who thinks the Fever need to do a better job making decisions with the ball and Coach Gaines who is employing a "Read and React" defense to keep Indiana off balance. As good as Tammy Sutton-Brown and Ebony Hoffman are scoring down low, perhaps their weaknesses passing the ball out of the post have been exposed by the Mercury.

On the other end, the Phoenix spread offense with all five players set outside the three point line initially confused the Fever according to Coach Dunn, "Initially we did not handle that but then I thought we made an adjustment that really helped us and had we continued to score after we made that adjustment I think we would have won the ball game. We basically said Le'Coe Willingham is going to have to beat us."

Dunn wants Phoenix to make two's instead of three's and wants to make Le'Coe Willingham be the facilitator instead of Cappie Pondexter.

Meanwhile, Penny Taylor thinks there is no way to defend the Mercury when they spread the floor like that, "It worked  like a treat. It really opened it up and made them defend one on one. We really have the best players in the world at attacking when there's an open floor and also players with vision so when the help comes they can find that open player."

I asked Penny how she would defend that if she were on the other side, "You can't, there's just no way," she joked before adding, "I think the way Corey (Gaines) has us set up and has us moving around the perimeter makes it extremely difficult to help and then to rotate from there."

That's the X's and O's. The Fever want to move the ball better against the Phoenix "Read and React" defense and feel like they will need 95 points to win. The Mercury will continue to spread the floor and run a high pick and roll from the middle of the court where it is difficult to bring help.

As for the game itself, I asked both Taurasi and Indiana forward Ebony Hoffman how they approach a big game like this.

Taurasi: "It comes down to just another 40 minutes of basketball. If we treat it like we have all year we really have nothing to worry about."

Hoffman: "It's not another game...It's the culmination of our life what we play for, what we work so hard in the off-season, what we are honing our skills for. For this moment...There's no tomorrow. We may be hurt. We may be a little damaged. We may have some cuts and bruises, some aches and pains. But right now you can't feel any of that. You've got to take whatever chance you have to take. Dive on the floor. Dive out of bounds. Take the charge. If you feel bad, oh well."

Hoffman was absolutely motivational talking about this game as if she was giving a pre-game pep talk instead of standing alone with me in the middle of an empty gym before her practice started. You really have to hear Ebony for yourself to appreciate how inspiring she was. I'm pumped just listening to her again...

 

 

It really is a shame this series has to end tonight. While I am hoping for a Mercury win, as long as both teams play hard (and how could they not) then there really will be no loser.

It's been a privilege and an honor spending time with these world class athletes. I've learned a lot from them about resilience and focus and determination. These are women who we can be proud to hold up as role models. They've earned far more respect then they receive from our society. They are doing more than playing a game.