Fever 86, Mercury 94

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PHOENIX (AP)—The core of the dynamic Phoenix Mercury is a trio as talented as any in the game.

No wonder they win WNBA championships.

Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor—who led the team to its 2007 title—did it again in 2009, when the Mercury held off a late rally by the tenacious Indiana Fever for a 94-86 victory in the deciding Game 5 Friday night.

League and finals MVP Taurasi scored 26 points, Pondexter had 24, and Taylor made two crucial free throws with 37.7 seconds left for the Mercury, who won the last two games to take the intense series 3-2.

“This is what we do, we make big plays,” Taurasi said, holding a towel over her head in the champagne-drenched locker room. “We have people that step up and love to live the moment. It’s a great team, great team.”

When it was over, the three hugged in elation, and Taylor—the Australian who joined the team Aug. 1 after reconstructive ankle surgery—broke down in tears.

“I was only here from half the season but it was a long half and it’s been a hard half,” she said. “Just the build up of that emotion of wanting to do so well, and wanting to do well for your teammates, wanting to win every game and it’s just a release right now that we have been able to do it,”

Tammy Sutton-Brown scored 22 points, and Jessica Davenport had a career-high 18 for Indiana in its first finals appearance. Tamika Catchings added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Fever.

“I thought we played about as well as we could play,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said. “I thought there were a couple of times that we missed some shots that maybe could have helped us win a championship, but they didn’t fall.”

Sutton-Brown pointed to the crucial home loss in Game 4.

“We had an opportunity to close it out at home, and we let that one slip away,” she said, “but I think we came out and fought hard tonight. Phoenix is a great team. I think it was a great series. It was great for the WNBA.”

Indiana rallied from 10 down in the second half to tie it at 80 on Sutton-Brown’s layup with 4:29 to play, then Tangela Smith made two 3-pointers, her only field goals of the night, to put the Mercury ahead for good.

Her second, after Davenport scored for Indiana, put Phoenix ahead 86-82 with 3:34 to go.

Pondexter’s 9-footer made it 88-82 with 2:22 left, but the Fever—who had led the series 2-1—weren’t finished. Davenport’s inside basket cut it to 88-84, then Catchings’ rebound basket made it 88-86 with 2:07 to play.

On the Mercury’s next possession, Taylor took the ball and drove the lane into a crowd of defenders. Davenport was called for the foul, and Taylor’s two free throws made it 90-86. Two free throws apiece DeWanna Bonner and Taurasi provided the final margin.

“Indiana’s a great team,” said Pondexter, who kept scoring despite taking an elbow to the right eye in the second quarter. “It just shows our resilience and how bad we really wanted to win.”

Taylor added 14 points and Bonner 13 for Phoenix. Katie Douglas had her second straight rough shooting night. The Indiana star was 4 of 14 for 13 points after going 2 of 14 in Game 4. The Mercury made 10 of 17 3s.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t worried about it tonight,” Douglas said. “I got a feel for most of the shots, they just didn’t fall.”

Phoenix won it with the super-speed style that then-coach Paul Westhead used in 2007 and Corey Gaines adopted when he took over.

“When I first started coaching in the WNBA coach Westhead, who is my mentor — who we owe this championship to as much as him being here right now—he told me, `We’re going to coach the players as players, not women, ball players”’ Gaines said. “And it’s funny how they embraced it because they enjoyed being treated that way. Instead of being treated as women basketball players, we treat them as ball players.”

After a cold-shooting first quarter, the Mercury turned it on with one of their best 10 minutes of the season, shooting a finals record 76.5 percent (13 of 17)—and they even missed their last two shots—in a second-quarter blitz.

Phoenix also set a finals second-quarter record for points, outscoring Indiana 35-19 to take a 51-42 lead at the break.

Taurasi, after struggling with her shot against Catchings’ defense in the first four games, was 5 for 5 in a 13-point second quarter, three of them 3-pointers. Her NBA-length 3 from the top of the key with 6:19 left in the half gave her 10 points already in the quarter and put Phoenix up 33-31.

The Mercury made 13 of their first 15 shots second-quarter shots.

The Mercury led by as many as 10 in the third quarter, but rookie Briann January—from nearby Arizona State—sank a 3-pointer with 36.7 seconds left to cut Phoenix’s lead to 70-65 entering the fourth.

January’s 3-pointer, followed by Sutton-Brown’s inside basket that made it 80-80 with 4:29 to go.

Phoenix Suns captains Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash and Grant Hill purchased the tickets in the upper bowl of US Airways Center, then gave them away, leading to a sellout crowd of 17,313.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Indiana
T. Catchings Tamika Catchings
6-13,  16 Pts
9 Rebs, 6 Assists
 Phoenix
D. Taurasi Diana Taurasi
7-15,  26 Pts
6 Rebs, 4 Assists

Scoreboard

Friday, Oct 9