A little more than two weeks after Full Court Press named the Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi as this year's Most Valuable WNBA Player, the league has followed suit with the announcement of its 2009 MVP award in a ceremony preceding the tip-off of the first game of the WNBA Finals series. It was the first time the six-year Mercury veteran won the award.
Taurasi led the league in scoring in 2009 for the third time in four seasons (2009, 2008, 2006), averaging 20.4 points per game during the 2009 regular season. She also posted career highs in rebounding (5.7 rebounds per game), blocks (1.39 blocks per game), field-goal percentage (46.1 percent) and three-point percentage (40.7 percent).
Taurasi credited her teammates and thanked those "who have had my back" during a summer filled with "ups and downs," alluding to her arrest in early July on DUI charges. A court date on those charges, to which she has pleaded not guilty, awaits her after the end of the playoffs, on October 30.
Taurasi ran away in the voting by a national panel of sportswriters and broadcaster, taking 323 total points and 27 first-place votes. The Indiana Fever's Tamika Catchings came in second with 163 points and three first-place votes, while her teammate Katie Douglas finished third with 128 points and five first-place votes. Taurasi's teammate, Cappie Pondexter, finished fourth with 99 points and one first-place vote.
But asked whether the wide margin by which she had won the award meant anything to her, Taurasi replied, "I didn't know what the tally was and I don't think it matters. Anyone who was up for the award -- Tamika [Catchings], Katie Douglas, Cappie [Pondexter -- everyone was deserving, they had amazing seasons. It was fun to watch. I followed them. The award, you know, should say, "Phoenix Mercury" on it, that's the way I feel. Everyone contributed to what it is. It's pretty special."
"Well, if you didn't like women's basketball, I think you do now!" said Coach Corey Gaines after his Phoenix Mercury prevailed in overtime to take the first game of the WNBA Finals series, 120-116, over the Indiana Fever in the highest scoring game ever played in WNBA history. The tightly matched, fast-paced, high-scoring game was all you could have wished for in a championship contest.
In what will likely be an Instant Classic, a crowd of 11,617 watched as the Phoenix Mercury used their superior firepower to outlast the Indiana Fever in overtime in a game marked by 19 lead changes and 13 ties. Not surprisingly, the game set all kinds of scoring records, not just for a Finals game but for a WNBA game of any kind, not the least of which was the total 236 points scored. Both teams surpassed the previous WNBA record (115) for points in a game -- playoffs or regular season -- that had been set earlier this year by the Mercury in their June 13, 2009 overtime win over the Sacramento Monarchs.
While Phoenix has by now become accustomed to exceeding the century mark, having done so in eight playoff games alone and a total of 23 times over the last three-plus seasons. The Fever, on the other hand, had never before scored 100 points in a playoff game; indeed, they had scored 100 points only once previously in franchise history (scoring 103 against Phoenix on September 14, 2008).
Most had expected the Fever, known more its defense than its offensive prowess, to try to slow the Mercury's up-tempo, run-and-gun style. Instead, its was Indiana pushing the ball from start to finish. That's the same approach the Fever used to capture a 90-83 victory when they visited Phoenix in August; this time, they simply upped the ante.
"We beat them here, we played up-tempo, we ran and we won," said Fever Coach Lin Dunn, explaining her strategy after the game. "We are a running team, we like to run, so I knew we could run with them. I wasn't concerned about that. I thought that we would be able to push the ball up and down the floor and get some good early shots, early post-ups, just like they did so that didn't surprise me at all that we could play their tempo."