One of the best WNBA seasons ever comes to a close tonight with a winner take all Game 5 finale for the championship as the Phoenix Mercury host the Indiana Fever.
With the total sitting at 178, look for some scoring fireworks to return for both teams when the Feber and Mercury finish the series north of the number like the Game 1 overtime thriller in Phoenix last week.
With the Mercury winning Game 4 of the WNBA finals at Indiana’s Conseco Fieldhouse on Wednesday, it was one of their best defensive efforts of the season holding the Fever to only 77 points. This was a do or die matchup for Phoenix needing a victory to force a Game 5 showdown tonight back at the US Airways Center in Phoenix.
Although Mercury star guard Diana Taurasi had her least amount of points in the finals so far with only 16 in Game 4, it was her leadership on the court and bench which kept everything strong for her teammates down the stretch to victory. Despite being outrebounded 36-32 by the Fever, as well as losing the battles for points in the paint and fast breaks, Taurasi and the Mercury were able to cause many misses from beyond the arch for Indiana on their way to the win.
With the line for tonight’s final battle favoring the Mercury by 5 points over the Fever, bookmakers and fans alike feel Phoenix will capture their second WNBA championship tonight. It was two years ago when the Mercury won Game 5 in Detroit against the Shock battling back to take the crown, and many parts of that cast will be on the floor tonight for them. But with a blowout win on Wednesday in Game 4, the spread may be a little inflated from it making the cover a tough call. The Fever are an appealing underdog having shown they can win in Phoenix taking Game 2 of the series there last week, as well as their only visit there during the regular season.
The total looks to be where the most value is tonight as both squads have tightened up on defense during the last three games – and handicapping Game 5’s number comes down to whether the current trend will continue or not. Since the high scoring overtime battle that started the series in Game 1 won by Phoenix 120-116, the combined points for both teams in the three following games has decreased on every occasion. Game 2 just two nights after Game 1 in Phoenix saw the Mercury points meltdown in a 93-84 loss to the Fever. Then with the series shifting to Indiana last weekend, Game 3 was a tense 86-85 catfight won by the hometown Fever.
Bookmakers have been lowering the closing total on the board just a bit in each game due to recognizing some better defense being played since Game 1 by both teams, but have been hesitant to move the number down a lot. They know that as long as either the Fever or Mercury have a decent night of shooting, the swishing baskets by stars on both teams can come through at any point making the over an easy choice – especially with 27 out of 44 Mercury games going over the total this season.
I see tonight’s game quite a bit like how the Game 5 went between the Shock and Mercury back in 2007. In that series it was much like this one where it started out with a high scoring 108-100 Shock victory making the over an easy winner, but the next three games then all went under the total. Bookmakers adjusted the total all the way down to 172 ½ for Game 5 but both teams came out firing scoring almost 100 points in the first half alone.
With the last few games being more physical on the court than the fast and loose way the series started in Game 1, I feel that both teams will want to get back to running and gunning in Phoenix for Game 5. On only one day’s rest from Game 4 and both teams having to travel, I feel you will not see the same sharpness on defense as there has been in the last few matchups. A good example of this happened in the Fever-Shock conference final series where both teams began it on several days rest and Game 1 resulted in a low scoring smashmouth 72-56 loss for Indiana, but Game 2 on one days rest with both teams traveling loosened up things for the Fever making a higher octane 79-75 victory happen for them.
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.
Fouls being called in this series at times have also controlled the tempo of games and we could see some of that coming into play again tonight. In Game 4, Taurasi was whistled for two quick fouls and it got her off the court for a while during the Mercury’s early lead. Game 3 had the Fever’s leading scorer Hoffman on the bench more than she would have wanted to be due to foul trouble as well. I feel there will be a lot of fouls called again tonight on both sides sending teams to the line a lot and that helps for getting more points on the board with the clock stopped – a big key when betting an over.
Like a championship series in any sport, it is all about who steps up in that final deciding game. We might see Penny Taylor of the Mercury try to pile in 30 points like she did to win Game 5 for the Mercury two years ago. Or will it be Katie Douglas of the Fever trying to repeat her 30 point performance from Game 1 and bouncing back from a terrible Game 4. Tune in tonight for all the action and take the Over 178 which should cash long before the championship trophy comes out.