Penny Taylor's ability to protect the ball while driving to the rim was impressive (not depicted in this photo). August 29, 2009. Phoenix, AZ. Photo by Max Simbron
Last night, I took the opportunity to attend my first ever Mercury game with our own Phoenix Stan. By now you may (or may not) know that I have never been a fan of the WNBA but that I committed to giving the league a chance this season. So it was in that spirit that I headed to central Phoenix to watch the only professional basketball team from the great state of Arizona to take home a championship trophy. At the game I saw a lot of what I expected and a few things that surprised me and not in a bad way. So the question is, after my experience watching women run the floor of the US Airways Center, do I consider myself a fan of the Mercury/WNBA? Well, lets dive a little further into my experience at the arena before I answer that.
I’m going to start with some of the positive things that I saw during the game:
The first was the energy present in a stadium that was not even half full. Something that is never going to come through while watching a game on TV is the energy of the crowd that attends these games. Obviously it doesn’t even compare to a Suns crowd, but the fans that were there were true Phoenix Mercury fans. There was one dude behind press row who not only knew the names of all of the players and coaches but of the officials, too! He was constantly calling them out by name to argue with every call they made (that went against the Mercury anyway). Another little girl (couldn’t have been older than 6) got so freaking excited at the prospect of getting a PHX Mercury t-shirt that she absolutely would not stop screaming at the top of her amazing little lungs until the timeout was over and play resumed…my ears are still ringing a bit. I was truly amazed at the hardcore Mercury fans that showed up to cheer on this team.
The second was the competitive spirit of the game. Okay, so this didn’t necessarily come as a surprise but the players more than met my expectations. Two instances really stand out to me. First, in the opening quarter Penny came into the game and got the ball at the top of the key with the Sun defender all over her - she took exception to the aggressive D and swung her elbow high and hit the defender right in the chest…she got the foul called on her but you can bet she got a little extra room the next time down. The second happened at the very end of the game when Cappie stole the ball on an inbounds pass (up 9 with less than 15 seconds left) and after scoring the final bucket of the game proceeded to wink in the direction of Lindsay Whalen and the Sun bench…good stuff! It was a very competitive game and was enjoyable watching the back and forth between one of the best teams in the league and another team fighting for playoff position.
The third was the play of four particular players.
Diana Taurasi: DT was awesome. She finished the game with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. But more than numbers she played the game smart, aggressive (although Stan insists that she’s not that aggressive on a nightly basis) and she is immensely talented. Stan spoke to me about Cappie’s crossover but DT had the more impressive crossover from my viewpoint. I was very impressed with her quick shot release as well (something I’ve noticed a lot of players don’t have – especially from beyond the 3 point line where they need to put a little more umph into it. To put it simply (and in a cliché), DT was worth the price of admission.
Penny Taylor: Penny is a very smart player. She understands the game and knows how to get to her spots. She had a lot of aggressive drives and she was VERY GOOD at protecting the ball while keeping her momentum going forward (she could probably teach a thing or two to a certain PHX Suns backup PG). I was very impressed with her competitive drive and understanding.
Cappie Pondexter: Cappie was OFF in the 1st half last night and I mean OFF! She reminded me a lot of Gilbert Arenas – she’s eccentric, she’s competitive and she’s not afraid to shoot the ball. She was chucking last night…she had very poor shot selection in the first half and it is my belief (as a streaky shooter/scorer myself) that she was trying to get one to fall to get herself into a rhythm. I did enjoy her game though as she was always aggressive and never got down on herself.
Lindsay Whalen: Lindsay plays PG for the Sun and aside from DT she was my favorite player on the floor. She was built like a tank – low to the floor and thick – and athletic is a word that I would never use to describe her. However, she was possibly the smartest player on the floor. She understands how to use her body to get to the spots she wants and can get shots even though she is short and probably can’t jump over a Dr. Seuss book. I really, really, REALLY liked her game and the way she ran the team.
I’ll admit that there are things that I enjoyed, I saw certain things that I expected to see (and not in a good way). Now, I’m listing these NOT to try and deter any readers from enjoying the WNBA but to give the full account of my experience.
The first thing was sloppy play. There were large stretches of sloppy play full of turnovers and miscues on both sides of the ball. I don’t know what it is but for some reason the WNBA is plagued by these stretches (again in my limited viewing experience and in my eyes confirmed last night). It really makes it hard to watch.
The second was the officiating. Apparently this is a real (and acknowledged) problem in the league. I mean, the refs really dictated the game and it was called very inconsistently. It was just hard to get a grasp on how the refs were calling the game which is actually a big part of organized ball.
The third was how choppy the game was. The game was a high scoring game – 95 points in 40 minutes is no easy task – but lets look at how those points were scored. 33 points were scored at the free throw line as the Mercury went 33 -40 from the strip. For those non-math majors that’s over 33% of the Mercury’s points. Between the two teams there were 47 fouls in the 40 minutes of game time and that just makes it so you don’t get large stretches of pure fast pace basketball – even though the Mercury use the same style and philosophy as the Suns.
Finally, the scoring. Yes, they scored but as Stan pointed out to me that the midrange game is the WNBA’s bread and butter. That’s all well and good but allow me to give my two cents on why this is. Everybody knows that the WNBA is not an athletic league. You don’t see any high-flying dunks or crazy acrobatic moves. Because of this it is hard for smaller players to score in the lane. Last night we saw a lot of missed layups and wild shots when players got into the lane (not to mention a lot of fouls). It just seems that players are forced to score in the midrange, which is all well and good, but it did seem to me that this limits what the teams are able to do offensively – even the Mercury who have a lot of talent.
So where does this leave me as a WNBA fan? I wouldn’t call myself a fan – I will probably never watch a complete game on TV the way I do with the Suns. However, given the opportunity, I would enjoy attending some games in the future – especially as my little girl gets bigger. Look, I respect the hell out of what these women do. There are very talented players playing in the league and while it does not and can not compare to the NBA game, it is it’s own game and if you look at it like that it can be an enjoyable experience to watch it. However, the game is just not for me as something that I’m going to follow closely. I’ve said it before, the game of basketball is like a work of art where some may like Picasso, some Monet and some still may prefer Dustin Watson’s stuff, the point is there’s no wrong or right answer just preferences and opinions. So in that spirit, ladies keep doing what you’re doing...you put on a good show and even got this non-fan to enjoy himself watching.