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Thursday, October 8, 2009
Updated: October 9, 12:43 PM ET
Finals have become own "fall classic"

By Mechelle Voepel
Special to ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana coach Lin Dunn agreed that this WNBA Finals have become like a Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer Grand Slam final. A five-set, knock-down, drag-out that both opponents deserve to win, but only one will.

Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings
Diana Taurasi's Mercury, who won Games 1 and 4, host Tamika Catchings' Fever on Friday as the WNBA Finals go to a Game 5 for the third time in five years.

"We just can't be like Serena," Dunn said, continuing the tennis analogy, "and double-fault."

Of course, Indiana and Phoenix also wouldn't want to replicate Serena Williams' temper -- like threatening to shove the basketball down a referee's throat or something. It's not likely that things will get that heated, even if we've already had "The Elbow" and "The Head-butt." Every game has been high-level intense.

"I don't expect anything else," Phoenix's Cappie Pondexter said.

Teammate Diana Taurasi added of the mano-a-mano battling: "At this point, if you don't want to do that, you shouldn't be on the court."

For the third time in the five years since this has been a best-of-five series, the WNBA Finals are going the distance. It happened in 2006, when Detroit beat Sacramento, and in 2007, when Phoenix beat Detroit.

Those were both entertaining series. But this year's Finals seem to have brought the WNBA closer to the tipping point of being more a part of the fall sports fabric, as league president Donna Orender put it.

Certainly, a record-breaking 120-116 Phoenix victory in overtime to open the Finals got the series off to a blazing start. It has also helped that the Finals have included the league MVP, Taurasi, for the first time since Lisa Leslie and the Los Angeles Sparks won the best-of-three series in 2001.

Plus, this series -- which had more than 18,000 fans attend Games 3 and 4 in Indiana -- has included dynamic scorers such as Taurasi and Pondexter, two other popular do-it-all players in Phoenix's Penny Taylor and Indiana's Tamika Catchings, plus top rookies DeWanna Bonner (Mercury) and Briann January (Fever).

[Cappie Pondexter] is able to slip through a crack -- any crack -- in the defense and get to the basket, creating so much for herself and her teammates.

-- Indiana's Tamika Catchings

There has also been a breakout postseason performance from Indiana's Ebony Hoffman, a six-year veteran who was the league's Most Improved Player in 2008 and would be a candidate for most amusing personality every season.

Asked about dealing with the possible emotional and physical fatigue of going on the road for Game 5, especially after losing a chance to close out the championship at home, Hoffman answered with her trademark humor.

"I'm fine, it's the Finals. I feel like I'm a newborn baby," she said after Wednesday night's 90-77 loss. "I just came out of the womb. I'm OK. I can play right now."

Such optimism is admirable, but Dunn said she was glad her team would get some rest Thursday. Dunn credited Phoenix's defense for making it tough on Indiana's shooters, but she also wondered if some weariness had contributed to Katie Douglas' 2-of-14 night in Game 4.

"Katie's shot looked a little flat," said Dunn, who acknowledged that Douglas' confidence began to wane as the misses piled up. "When Katie's open, she's got to take those shots. We count on her to shoot. Whether she misses five or six in a row, she's got to keep shooting.

"It was just one of those nights where you can't get anything to go. It happens sometimes, you have an off night. The players that struggled from the field, they're mentally tough -- they'll bounce back. Katie's able to turn around and have 30. I'm not worried about her."

Tamika Catchings
Despite a subpar performance in Game 1, Tamika Catchings is averaging 16.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 6.8 apg, 2.8 spg and 1.8 bpg in the WNBA Finals.

Phoenix, however, is concerned about Douglas -- for that same reason. The Mercury know that Douglas and the rest of the Fever can rally from a loss, because they did it after Game 1 in Phoenix.

"We've got to get refocused and hit a few more shots," Dunn said. "I thought they were very attacking [Wednesday], and we at times did not defend them as well as we should have. Our rotations were a little soft. We made some adjustments and actually tied the game, but then we went cold.

"It's going to be hard for us to beat them when they've got five in double figures and we've got three. We know we can score and shoot in that arena. We just can't get down and discouraged."

Five of the current Phoenix players were on the 2007 squad that went into Detroit and won the championship on the road. So they certainly know that could be done to them by the Fever.

"We can't rely on that," Taurasi said of playing the final game in Phoenix. "Sometimes you get lax when you go home; you think the crowd's going to win the game. You think because you're sleeping in your own bed, that's going to win the game. But you have to put the work in on the court to win.

"Sometimes you make shots and sometimes you don't. [Wednesday] we were on the good side of it. We are a team that feeds on setting the tone early, and we were finally able to do that. We have to duplicate that for Game 5.

"I know they will be looking at it the same way we did here: us against the world. It's really going to be an all-out battle, and that's all you can ask for."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.