Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Merc Comes Up Empty at the End of Game 3

There are some games that stay with you, that haunt you because of missed opportunities and remind you of the thin line between victory and defeat. Something tells me Game 3 is going to be one of those games for the Phoenix Mercury unless the Mercury wins the next two games and its WNBA Finals series against the Detroit Shock.

How many chances was Phoenix unable to convert in the fourth quarter tonight in front of 12,000-plus at the US Airways Center? Too many to count.

The Mercury held a 47-42 advantage on the glass, including an astounding 18 offensive boards, and shot 38 free throws to Detroit's 15. Both numbers boded well for a Phoenix win, but the Mercury simply could not make enough shots, hitting 34.7% from the field and a dismal 16.1% (5-of-31) from downtown (not to mention just 73.7% at the charity stripe).

Part of that reflects shot selection, as much as anything Phoenix's Achilles heel in this postseason. The Mercury hoisted up 31 triple attempts despite misfiring on the vast majority; center Tangela Smith was 0-of-6, Cappie Pondexter 0-of-4 (of course, Pondexter was just a 33.3% three-point shooter during the regular season, making her an odd choice to attempt a game-tying three on Phoenix's last best chance).

At best, the Merc's propensity to fire a shot at any time and from almost anywhere on the floor makes the team impossible to defend. At worst, it leads to the extended scoring droughts we've seen in three of the team's last four games, dating back to the Game 2 victory over San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals. I don't mean to be too critical here; the conscience-free style has worked very well for Phoenix overall (obviously) and is essentially impossible to change now, but it has played a major role in why Detroit holds a 2-1 lead in this series.

I watched the game with several dozen Storm fans at the jam-packed Spitfire Sports Bar. Fans crowded the back room during halftime to congratulate Lauren Jackson on winning MVP honors. The love affair between city and player only continues to grow, as Storm COO Karen Bryant could scarcely make it through the list of highlights from LJ's 2007 campaign because of the regular rounds of applause directed from the fans to an appreciative Jackson.

Jackson did share, as has been reported in the Australian press, that she will not be joining the Opals in their exhibition matches against the U.S. National Team later this month after feeling under the weather following the conclusion of the Storm's season. Jackson will get a well-deserved chance to head home to Australia and relax at week's end.

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