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WNBA second round 2021

WNBA Second Round Set: Mercury at Storm, Sky at Lynx

On Thursday, the first round doubleheader of the WNBA Playoffs set the stage for Sunday’s second round, with the Chicago Sky holding off the Dallas Wings and the Phoenix Mercury edging out the New York Liberty is a fantastic contest.

We’ll take a look at what is coming this weekend in the WNBA’s second round, but first let’s dive into how the Mercury and Sky earned their way into another game.

WNBA Second Round Set: Mercury at Storm, Sky at Lynx

How Did We Get Here?

6 Chicago Sky 81, 7 Dallas Wings 64

Kahleah Copper was outstanding, utilizing her aggression well to consistently find lanes to the basket, willing her way through tough finishes at the rim. Her 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field were instrumental to the Sky’s dominance in the first and fourth quarters that ultimately made the difference. Alongside Copper was Candace Parker, who was a monster on the glass and in distribution, notching a double-double on 11 points and 15 rebounds, plus a team-high seven assists. Add in Courtney Vandersloot’s excellent mastery of the ball and understanding of when to push and retreat in transition, and Chicago wrestled the game away from Dallas in the final 10 minutes.

Arike Ogunbowale did what she does, knocking down ridiculous shots and proving that she’s one of the most difficult players to guard in the world. But her 22 points weren’t enough as only one of her teammates – Satou Sabally – managed to score in double figures in the face of the Sky’s defensive pressure.

5 Phoenix Mercury 83, 8 New York Liberty 82

Well, at least New York’s first WNBA Playoffs appearance since 2017 was anything but dull.

This game was so close, it felt hard to breathe throughout. Both teams kept delivering blows the other would respond to, but the final one came with 0.4 seconds remaining in the game when Brianna Turner drew a foul from Sami Whitcomb to go to the line with the game tied, 82-82. After so many emotional swings, it was only appropriate for her first attempt to his every part of the rim but its bottom, but Turner coolly connected in her next attempt to ultimately punch the Mercury’s ticket to the WNBA’s second round.

Betnijah Laney seriously showed up for the Liberty, scoring a game-high 25 points and sinking a triple with her team down three and 2.7 ticks left in the contest (don’t go under the screen, Kia Nurse!), but it was just barely not enough. The Liberty unleashed a furious deep attack on Phoenix, shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc, but Sophie Cunningham alone made half of the triple New York did as a team. She was an insane 6-of-7 from three, her 21 points off the bench bested only by Skylar Diggins-Smith’s 22.

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One team had to win, but this was one that felt like a tie would have been appropriate had it been an option. Games like these are why the WNBA Playoffs is must-watch basketball.

What to Watch For in Sunday’s Second Round

5 Phoenix Mercury at 4 Seattle Storm (3 p.m., ABC)

Two big questions surround this game in the lead up, and both are about injuries: will Diana Taurasi and/or Breanna Stewart be available? You’re talking about two superstar legends of the game and hearts of their teams, so we’re looking at completely different situations if zero, one, or both of them can see the court.

Ignoring them for a moment, we’re still looking at a Jewell Lloyd-Skylar Diggins-Smith backcourt matchup that is extremely enticing, and I want to see how the Storm defend against 6-foot-9 Brittney Griner without a single player taller than 6-foot-6 (and potentially not having Stewart). And while it’s unlikely for Cunningham to shoot 85.7 percent from three again, I’m curious to see what kind of impact she can make off the bench again in this single-elimination format.

Sue Bird is still doing Sue Bird things at almost 41 years old, and with her around, the Storm will always have a chance. But missing Stewart would be giant blow – you don’t easily replace the fifth-highest scorer in the WNBA in a single-elimination playoff situation. But only time will tell if Seattle will have her at its disposal, and the same goes for Phoenix and Taurasi, who would be especially great to see play to have another individual showdown with Bird in a very meaningful game.

6 Chicago Sky at 3 Minnesota Lynx (5 p.m., ESPN2)

The Sky managed to grab hold of their game against the Wings in the fourth quarter, and they’ll likely need to play better than they did Thursday to get by the Lynx in the second round.

Dallas doesn’t have the depth of scoring options that Minnesota does, so Chicago will need to be more locked in to defending as a unit in its second-round contest. Kayla McBride, Rachel Banham, Bridget Carleton, Crystal Dangerfield, and Layshia Clarendon all shot better than 35 percent from deep in the regular season for the Lynx, so Chicago will have to monitor those weapons.

But Minnesota also heavily relies on production in the paint, scoring 45.1 percent of its points in the key, which makes a lot of sense when you have Napheesa Collier and Sylvia Fowles. Conversely, the Sky rank 11th in the league in opponent points in the paint, allowing an average of 37.9 per night. That might not work out so well.

What Chicago does have is Candace Parker, who is one of the few players in the league a team can truly run everything through, and Copper could carry momentum from the Wings game into this one. But it’ll need more from the supporting cast, like Diamond DeShields, who was 1-of-8 from the field against Dallas, to pull off what would be a decently sizable upset.

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