36 years and counting… the drought continues. Circle City‘s lady ballers were defeated 94-86 tonight, ending their hopes of a WNBA title. After losing the championship series’deciding Game 5 Friday night to the Phoenix Mercury, the Indiana Fever will have to take solace in the fact that they reached their first WNBA Finals in franchise history. The loss extends the city of Indianapolis‘ streak without a major basketball championship since the Indiana Pacers were crowned kings of the ABA in 1973.
After the Fever’s disappointing Game 4 loss in front of their hometown fans in downtown Indianapolis on Wednesday night, the stage was set for the final one game–winner take all–showdown in the desert. With the win tonight, the Phoenix Mercury tool home their second title in three years. The Game 5 result leaves Hoosiers all over the state of Indiana saying, ‘there is always next year.” While there are a few reasons why the Indiana Fever came up short in the finals, the quick answer is they just did not have the offense to hang with Phoenix.
Things got off to a good start for the Fever during the first ten minutes of the game. The first quarter saw Fever center Tammy Sutton-Brown set a WNBA Final’s record, as she scored 14 points. Indiana was also able to stifle the high-powered offense of the Mercury, and led 23-16 after the first frame. Then, as though the basketball gods flipped a switch, the Mercury started to rise.
The 2009 WNBA Most Valuable Player, Dianna Taurasi, lead an all out offensive assault with 13 points in the second quarter, as she finished with a game high 26 points. Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor also got hot for Phoenix in the second quarter and finished with 24 points and 14 points respectively.
While in the first quarter the Fever were scoring with relative ease, in the second quarter the only thing they seemed to be able to hit were opposing players, sending the home team to the free throw line early and often. Phoenix finished the second quarter outscoring Indiana 35-19 and took a 51-42 lead into the locker room.
The third frame saw the Indiana Fever cut the Mercury lead to just five points and setup an exciting final 10 minutes of basketball. Indiana pulled even with 4:29 left on the clock thanks to a Sutton-Brown layup. But then gave up back-to-back 3-pointers to Tangela Smith that put Phoenix ahead for good.
It was 3-point shots like Smith’s that kept Phoenix rolling all night. At the end of regulation the Mercury had hit 10-17 from behind the 3-point arch for a 58.8% mark. They were also deadly from the foul line, going an almost perfect 24 out of 25 hitting 96%. In contrast, the Indiana Fever only hit 6-19 from downtown which equated to a 31.6% on 3-point shots. The were not much better from the charity stripe either, hitting 14 out of 20 freebies for a mediocre 70.0%.
These types of number just wont get it done when you are playing the best of the best. All night long the Fever looked timid and unsure of themselves when running set plays on offense. This is a problem that plagued the Fever throughout the playoffs and finally caught up with them. At times they would make extra passes that were not necessary, and were forced to take highly contested, low-percentage shots.
Indianapolis native Katie Douglas followed up her poor performance in Game 4 with a not so hot Game 5. She was only 1-9 from 3-point land, including several wide-open looks in the final two minutes which could have changed the Fevers fate. Indiana’s star player, Tamika Catchings played tough throughout but could not push her squad over the final hump. She finished with 16 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 blocks.
Several good things did come out of the Fevers playoff run this year.The city of Indianapolis embraced these darlings of the Indianapolis sports world like never before, setting new attendance records for the Fever seemingly every playoff game at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Indiana Fever advanced farther in these playoffs than they ever had before in the teams history, reaching the franchises first WNBA finals. They also got the Detroit Shock monkey off their back along the way. This was the first time in four years that the Detroit Shock did not eliminate the Fever, showing that Indiana is the new beast of the east in the WNBA.
These are small consolations for coming up just one win short of a championship, but they are steps in the right direction. Getting so close to their ultimate goal yet falling short will no doubt motivate Indiana next season. As for the Fever fans both new and old, all we can say is cheer up, there is always next year.