It should have been simple: Play like champions. Celebrate a championship.
The Phoenix Mercury understood that. The Indiana Fever didn't. And now, faced with a 90-77 game four loss in the WNBA Finals, the Fever head back to Phoenix where they will attempt to win WNBA title in enemy territory. Game five takes place Friday night at 9 pm and will be televised on ESPN2.
There were many moments in game four that encapsulate what went wrong for the Fever. Most of them reflect a lack of passion and intensity, crucial qualities when fighting for a championship. The Phoenix Mercury knew this from their 2007 title run.
There was Phoenix's Temeka Johnson, slamming the basketball off the backboard after a shot clock violation, and then seconds later slamming Briann January to the floor. Diana Taurasi confronting the refs at center court as the first half ended, and later blocking Katie's Douglas' lay up, grabbing the ball in mid-air as she fell out of bounds, and throwing it hard off of Douglas' body to preserve a Phoenix possession.
But the biggest evidence isn't Tamika Catchings' game-tying bucket with 4:30 to play in the third quarter, finally erasing a 13-point Mercury lead. It's the six points Phoenix immediately scored afterwards. Le'Coe Willingham, lay up. Taurasi, lay up. Penny Taylor, lay up. Phoenix 65, Indiana 59. The game could have ended there because that's when the Fever stopped playing.
Fans in the stands pointed to bad officiating for this loss. Granted, they have reason. Phoenix had approximately five instances that could have garnered a technical or flagrant foul. The only one that did was Johnson's smackdown on January, and both players shared a technical. But fouls and officiating aren't to blame for this loss. Indiana had only three more fouls than Phoenix and the Fever shot more free throws.
Passion and intensity cost the Fever game four of the WNBA Finals, and possibly the WNBA championship.
Phoenix played with passion. They fought for the ball, and they were willing to take down any Fever players in their way to gain possession. They were aggressive. Nothing was going to stop them from forcing game five, and the Fever passively handed the victory to the Mercury. Five of the eight Phoenix players who saw playing time scored in double figures. Only Catchings (24 points, 12 rebounds) and Ebony Hoffman (17 points, 70% shooting, 8 rebounds) appeared to realize what was at stake. Douglas, in her third WNBA Finals, scored 7 points and shot 2 of 14 from the floor. January, one of the game three heroes, scored 8 points, six of them from free throws. Tammy Sutton-Brown scored 12 points, but grabbed only three rebounds.
Perhaps the Fever's tanks were empty after running with Phoenix for approximately 150 minutes during the series. Maybe the pressure of fighting for a championship was too much.
Whatever the case, Indiana just made things more difficult. They could have won a championship at home in front of 18,000 fans. Now they must go back to Phoenix and try it there.
And if passion and intensity was impossible to find at home, what do the Fever expect to find in the unforgiving desert?