There was no other outcome for this season. When the Phoenix Mercury began winning games at a historical clip and the defending champions proved they were as good as ever this collision became the epicenter of the WNBA.
Now it comes down to one game.
In Game One the Mercury showed what they look like at as close to perfection as they can be for a full game. Great offense, balance, team defense, hustle, and a raucous home crowd on their feet all game. They humbled the Lynx in a way that has been unheard of for the past four years during the playoffs.
Then in Game Two the table was set for a Mercury win, a sweep, and a step closer to their third WNBA Championship.
All of that was interrupted by a 13-0 fourth quarter run that ended a steady overall performance. Until that fourth quarter run the Mercury were in control maintaining the lead for just over 30 consecutive minutes. In that fourth quarter Maya Moore was the MVP of the league with 13 points (32 overall) and the supporting cast was as good as they usually are scoring 13 points themselves while limiting the Mercury to 15 points as a team.
The ball stuck on offense and defense was not able to defend the three-point line or stop the Lynx from getting to the free-throw line.
Overall the game just fell flat for the Mercury over time, as it did for the Lynx for three quarters in Game one, which is what happens when a great team is on their game. The Mercury are a great team. The Lynx are a great team. The Mercury were the better of the two teams in the first round and the Lynx were the better of the two teams in the second round. This is precisely why there is a round three.
"Everyone is disappointed but we knew it's going to be a tough series going in," Head Coach Sandy Brondello after the loss. "These are the two best teams in the WNBA, they are the defending champions."
All of this. The historic season. The milestones. The records. All of that was for one reason and that was to have the opportunity to play this game at home, in front of a legitimate X-Factor, where they have the home court advantage. The Lynx will have to come and take this away from the Mercury in a hostile environment and the Mercury will have to dethrone the defending champions.
Everything done in the regular season is a precursor to the post-season. Sneak in with an average record and you have an uphill battle to climb. Dominate the standings and you become the ladder.
In the history of the Western Conference Finals for the WNBA there have been six total deciding game threes all of which were won by the team with home-court advantage. Never has a road team come out victorious in this setting. The Comets (1999), the Sparks (2001, 2003), Storm (2004), the Silver Stars (2008), and the Mercury most recently in 2009 when they cut down the nets.
"We have an opportunity to go back to Arizona and have the "X-Factor" there to support us," Brondello on Game Three. "And it's our home court so we need to go in there with confidence and shake off the things we didn't do well."
Whether on the road or at home the team was consistent winning games no matter the setting, but the home crowd inspires the team just that much more than a road venue.
The team averages nearly four more points per game at home, one rebound per game more, and shoots the ball nearly lights out (50.3% field-goal 37.6% three) from nearly everywhere.
Penny Taylor is a perfect example of that.
In the last two home games she has been the straw that stirs the Mercury flavored drink averaging 11.5 points 9.5 rebounds 7.0 assists 2.5 steals and infinite hustle on both ends of the floor. Her defense, effort, and ability to just about do everything well on the court. Her play glued the team together in their game one struggle versus the Sparks and sparked the team to a route of the Lynx in game one of this series. Her all-around play is crucial.
The Lynx did not dominate the Mercury or do anything revolutionary. Moore played like an MVP and they made plays at the end of the game. Like Taurasi said after the loss, "At the end of the game it comes down to making plays and getting stops."
For the Mercury they have to execute their gameplan and produce.
"We have to control the things we can control," Taurasi on Game Three.
Moore was a non-factor in Game One and the MVP of the league in Game Two. Taurasi, the teams best overall player, was efficient in Game One and inefficient in Game Two. Getting back to playing their style at home could be the deciding factor there.
For the series the Mercury have bested the Lynx in nearly every statistical category. They have outscored them (162-153), outrebounded them (77-63), dished out more assists (35-29), caused more havoc with blocks and steals (28-20), and got to the free-throw line more (38/43 -- 32/38) attacking the basket.
While the Mercury have dominated the team statistics the series is dead even in the most crucial category.
Everything the Mercury worked for is here. Having home court advantage by being the top team in the conference gives them the privilege of playing at home in this intense, pressure packed game. This series is eight quarters old with each team splitting them four a piece.
Now it comes down to going out there and controlling what they can control. Their play and effort.