2009 Phoenix Mercury: Winning in the Valley

 

1997 Arizona Rattlers. 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. 2009 Phoenix Mercury.

Throughout all of the historic teams that have represented The Valley, only a handful have been crowned champions and even fewer have done so at home. The deafening sound from the screaming fans, the confetti raining down from the ceiling and the overall thrill electrifying the arena is an atmosphere like no other when claiming a title on your own court; something the Phoenix Mercury got to experience in 2009.

After winning their first championship two years earlier, the Mercury were equipped with one of the deepest teams in the WNBA as they began their quest for a second banner. From the greatest player of all-time, Diana Taurasi, to a rookie proving her worth off the bench in DeWanna Bonner, this roster had it all.

MVP! MVP! MVP! For the third time in her career, Taurasi led the WNBA in scoring with 20.4 points per game, notching at least 20 points in 20 of 31 games on her way to earning the WNBA Most Valuable Player of the Year award. She shot lights out from deep, ranking seventh in the league in three-point shooting at 40.7 percent while also managing to lockdown defensively with 1.39 blocks per game, ranking eighth across the WNBA.

Standing at just 5’3”, the Mercury acquired Temeka Johnson just before the season began. The former WNBA Rookie of the Year ran the offense averaging 4.6 assists per game, tied for fifth in the league.

Cappie Pondexter earned her third All-Star selection in four seasons after setting a WNBA record with three-straight Player of the Week honors. Her scoring was right up there with Taurasi, ranking fourth in the league with 19.1 points per game, while her playmaking was also on display, ranking third in the league with 5.0 assists per game.

After shooting a league-best 57 percent from the field in 2008, Le’Coe Willingham was once again as reliable as it comes when asked to score. She led the team shooting 53.3 percent, ranking third across the entire league while posting 10 points per game.

Despite being the tallest player in the Mercury’s starting lineup, Tangela Smith could not only control the paint, but also stretch the floor as one of the league’s best sharp shooters. Smith led the WNBA in three-point shooting at 45.2 percent, while also ranking third in blocks with 1.68 per game.

Sounds like a pretty good lineup, right? Well, also add in two-time All-Star Penny Taylor and Sixth Woman of the Year, DeWanna Bonner to create a roster destined for a championship.

 

The Mercury dominated the regular season, finishing with a WNBA-best 23-11 record and earning the number one seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, things didn’t start the way they would have hoped as they tipped-off the Western Conference Semifinals against the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Sophia Young-Malcom dominated for the Silver Stars on both ends of the court in Game 1 while the Mercury struggled from the field. Ultimately, the number one seed found themselves already a game down as the Silver Stars took the first game of the series with a narrow 92-91 victory.

The Mercury clearly knew they were better than that performance and came out in Game 2 with a vengeance. The team bounced back with arguably the greatest playoff performance in franchise history at the time, breaking four team records while nearing two others.

RECORDS

Most points in the first quarter: 35

Highest. FG% in a quarter: 78.9 percent (15-of-19)

Most points in a half: 64

Most field goals made in a game: 46

ALMOST BROKEN

Highest FG% in a game: 63.9 percent (second-highest in WNBA history)

Most points in a game: 106 (fourth-highest in WNBA history)

The Mercury’s first-round pick and Sixth Woman of the Year was a huge spark off the bench as Bonner became the first Phoenix rookie to post a double-double in the postseason with 16 points and 13 rebounds. She was just the sixth rookie ever to do so in the playoffs.

The Mercury were back on track after taking down the Silver Stars easily 106-78 to even out the series. While the winner-take-all Game 3 was a closer matchup, Taurasi’s 30-point performance guided the Mercury to a 100-92 victory and a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

In a series that saw both teams lose on their home court in the first two games, the Mercury found themselves once again on the brink of elimination as they tipped-off Game 3 against the Los Angeles Sparks. But in front of the X-Factor, Taurasi and Willingham combined for 38 points as they defeated the Sparks 85-74 and punched their ticket to the WNBA Finals.

 

What better way to begin the Finals than with an overtime thriller as the Mercury played host to the Indiana Fever.

Taylor was crucial for the Mercury off the bench, tying Pondexter with a team-high with 23 points on 7-10 shooting. Taurasi added 22 points of her own while tallying 9 rebounds and 6 assists.

The two teams battled through overtime, but the Mercury ultimately gained the edge with a 120-116 victory to take Game 1. The Mercury’s 120 points marked the most scored in any WNBA game all-time and the two teams also combined for the most points in a game in league history.

The excitement from Game 1 spread throughout the city of Phoenix and the fans gathered for a historic crowd in Game 2. A staggering 16,758 fans were in attendance at US Airways Center, marking the largest postseason home crowd in franchise history. It was the most fans in attendance since the Mercury’s first home playoff game in 1997.

Despite the energy of the X-Factor, the Mercury fell in Game 2 to even up the series. Game 3 in Indiana was another highly-contested game, but Fever ultimately ended with a one-point advantage to take the series lead with an 86-85 victory.

Down 2-1 in a best-of-five series, the Mercury needed the win to keep their championship hopes alive and had to overcome doing so while on the road. Pondexter came through when the Mercury needed her most, scoring 22 points with 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals as she helped guide the team to a convincing 90-77 victory.

A WNBA Finals Game 5 winner-take-all in Phoenix was set.

The Mercury had already fought themselves out of three elimination scenarios throughout this postseason, winning all three must-win games, but needed one more to earn the crown.

The Mercury re-set their record from Game 2, as the X-Factor stormed through the doors with a sold-out 17,313 fans at US Airways Center. The Mercury were the best team in the league during the regular season and that’s exactly what they looked like in Game 5.

After a tough first quarter, the Mercury erupted for 35 points in the second quarter and never looked back as they closed-out the series and brought another banner to the Valley with a 94-86 victory.

Taurasi proved why she was named the MVP of the league. With 26 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks and a steal, Taurasi and Pondexter combined 50 points in the championship-clincher.

The Mercury had won their second title in three years, but this time in front of the home crowd. The X-Factor were able to witness live the confetti fall, Taurasi named WNBA Finals MVP and the championship trophy held high for the city of Phoenix.

Want to re-live Game 5? In partnership with the Mercury’s exclusive broadcast partner, FOX Sports Arizona, four of the Mercury’s most iconic games in franchise history will air once. Replay the excitement from the Mercury’s second championship on May 24 at 3 p.m. on Fox Sports Arizona (re-runs on May 26 at 1:30 p.m. and May 27 at 1:30 p.m.).