To start off the second round, the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx will battle at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN2, pitting two teams that finished one game apart in the standings against one another. The teams split the season series, 1-1, with the Lynx taking the first meeting on Aug. 21, 90-80, and the Mercury responding on Aug. 30, 83-79.
Both teams are pretty similar on paper. Other than similar win-loss records, in the 2020 regular season, both teams shot almost the same percentage from the field (45.6 percent for Minnesota, 45.0 for Phoenix), averaged roughly the same scoring (86.1 point per game for Phoenix, 84.4 for Minnesota), were comparative from the free-throw line, hauled in almost mirroring rebounds (34.4 per game for Minnesota, 34.0 for Phoenix), shared the ball about even (20.4 assists per contest for Phoenix, 19.8 for Minnesota) and had close turnover numbers (14.9 per outing for Minnesota, 15.2 for Phoenix). It’s jarring to see how similar both teams are in almost every major statistical category, but there is one where there’s a stark contrast: blocks.
If you’ve watched the WNBA this season, then you’ve probably seen Brianna Turner block a shot. In fact, you’ve probably seen her block a few shots. In total, she swatted 43 attempts in 22 games, giving her a 2.0 blocks per game average, tied for best in the league. As a team, the Mercury were the best shot blocking team in the league during the regular season, eliminating 5.6 of their opponent’s attempts per night.
Now, half of that was done with the help of Brittney Griner, one of the most talented shot blockers there is. But she is not longer available for the Mercury, so you have to take some of that team block state with a grain of salt. Regardless, Turner is a monster in the paint, and she will be a major issue for the Lynx to handle.
Turner’s ability to close down the paint with blocks and rebounds will be what I’m watching for the most in this one. When Minnesota beat the Mercury in their first matchup, Naphessa Collier and Damiris Dantas combined for 39 points and 15 rebounds. Turner had four swats and nine boards, but without help from Griner, who had already ended her season by that point, it wasn’t enough to contain the Lynx’s inside attack. In the second game, though, Turner took over, blocking four shots again and nabbing 15 boards, getting lots of help from Taurasi on the glass, who hauled down 12 of her own. In that one, Dantas and Collier put together 21 points and 11 rebounds, nowhere close to their effectiveness in the first game. It ended in an L for the Lynx.
The second game of the night will feature Los Angeles Sparks and Connecticut Sun at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN2. The teams in this one don’t appear as evenly matched on paper, though in a single-elimination situation, anything can happen, and the regular season series between the two was interesting. The Sparks won both matchups, first edging out the Sun on July 30, 81-76, then again narrowly coming out ahead, 80-76, on Aug. 28, but Connecticut kept it close both times. Could the third time, and most important time, be the charm?
In both games against the Sparks, Bonner and Thomas did well, especially in the first meeting when they combined for 44 points and 32 rebounds. Thomas didn’t shoot well that night, but in the second game, she found her touch and nearly had another double-double against Los Angeles. Both players present a difficult matchup, especially with their size. Their efficiencies are questionable, though, which is an area LA can exploit.
Last season, the Sparks and Sun faced off in in the semifinals of playoffs, and it did not go LA’s way. Connecticut swept the Sparks, 3-0, with relative ease, blowing the doors off Los Angeles in Game 2 and Game 3. But this is one year later, and the situation is different.
The Sun don’t appear to be the title contenders they were in 2019 and have undergone some roster changes. The Sparks finished in the same third position, and they’ve got much of the same main cast. However, the addition of Seimone Augustus, a veteran with more than a decade of WNBA experience, all with the Lynx before joining the Sparks in the offseason. She has played in 56 postseason games and won four WNBA championships, including a Finals MVP nod in 2011. Needless to say, she’s one of the most accomplished playoff players in WNBA history.
She isn’t the player she once was, though, taking on a role position spot off the bench this season and posting 5.9 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. The Sparks have been successful in the postseason with some of their current core before, but last season’s flame out against Connecticut raised plenty of questions. Could Augustus be the wise, steady voice that keeps the team together in the heat of the WNBA Playoffs?
It’s revenge time.