Phoenix Mercury, Chicago Sky reach semifinals with second-round upsets

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Phoenix Mercury, Chicago Sky reach semifinals with second-round upsets

8:00 AM ET

Sunday’s next-round games in the 2021 WNBA playoffs sent, with one overtime barnburner, two upsets and a complete great deal of heartfelt emotion. Will we see Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird all over again? She mentioned she is not guaranteed. And on the very same working day Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles won her fourth defensive player of the year award, her year ended.

Now, the No. 6-seeded Chicago Sky get on the top-seeded Connecticut Sunlight, and the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury meet the No. 2-seeded Las Vegas Aces in the best-of-five semifinals starting off Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Phoenix superior around defending winner Seattle with an 85-80 victory, but it took extra time, Diana Taurasi’s return, double-doubles from Brittney Griner and Brianna Turner, a quite off capturing game by Seattle’s Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart’s absence.

The Mercury are the only crew still left in the playoffs that has gained a WNBA championship. They defeat Chicago when they won the most current of their 3 titles, in 2014. The Sky will check out to achieve the WNBA Finals yet again just after defeating No. 3 Minnesota 89-76 Sunday.

Can anything stop a 1-2 matchup in the WNBA Finals? The Mercury and the Sky will try out. Here is a search ahead at the semifinals.

AP Photograph/Elaine Thompson

Connecticut and Las Vegas have been the favorites for a even though. Do Sunday’s upsets modify the dynamic of the semifinals?

Voepel: These were being upsets, seeding-intelligent, but I will not imagine possibly were being large surprises. Phoenix-Seattle as a 4-5 activity was kind of a toss-up, particularly with Stewart out with a foot harm. And we have said through most of this season that Chicago is the most unpredictable staff in the WNBA: At their finest, the Sky could gain it all at their worst, they can beat on their own.

All that claimed, Sunday’s victories arrived on the street in opposition to two franchises that each and every have won 4 titles. That is no little issue, sending the two Phoenix and Chicago into the semifinals with confidence.

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Phoenix went 1-2 against Las Vegas in the normal time, but all three games ended up close, specifically an 84-83 decline on Sept. 19, the final day of the normal period, though that sport had no effect on the seedings. If Seattle had gained Sunday and experienced Stewart in the semifinals, that rematch of very last year’s WNBA Finals would have been a near matchup. Devoid of her, possibly not. Phoenix, specially if Taurasi can keep contributing, need to present a problem for Las Vegas.

Chicago went 2-1 from Connecticut in the standard year, with all a few game titles in June. Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve sounded actually involved about the Sky heading into Sunday, and it wasn’t coachspeak. She realized Chicago has the expertise to drive the video game to be played in a way that positive aspects the Sky. Which is what took place 5 Sky gamers scored in double figures — and Candace Parker (8 points) was not one particular of them.

Connecticut’s protection has been remarkable witness 4 Sunshine gamers on the WNBA’s All-Defensive groups. The Sun’s opponents have averaged less than 70 PPG this season Chicago averaged 83.3 in the typical time and is at 85. PPG immediately after two playoff online games. It is energy from power.

Cohen: The amount a person factor on my brain is how the Mercury and Sky have managed to boost amongst the initially- and 2nd-spherical online games.

I agree with Mechelle that Phoenix’s victory Sunday was not a shock. But with Taurasi back again, and Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith actively playing as very well as they did in the typical time, I am commencing to feel Phoenix can drive Las Vegas to a whole 5-game series. What will make that a reality is the bench engage in, and if the Mercury’s second-unit can hold up with the Aces’.

Now, the Sky have last but not least observed out how very good they can be, right after we viewed them struggle with that all through the standard time. Chicago is these a complete workforce, and its capacity to shift the ball and score the way that it does poses a huge danger to Connecticut. Will the Sky’s offense give or will the Sun’s protection give? What a pleasurable matchup — thankfully, for a minimal of three games.

AP Image/Elaine Thompson

Diana Taurasi performed Sunday for the 1st time considering that Sept. 6. She’s clearly not at 100 p.c, but how will she impression the collection against Las Vegas?

Cohen: The Mercury have revealed they can earn with no Taurasi. But if they want to continue on to gain, they require her leadership. She is the very best WNBA player ever for a reason. DT did not have a flashy sport in opposition to the Storm, but her six details in time beyond regulation show how her expertise and poise in rough situations are so important to Phoenix successful.

I noticed her grimacing during the sport towards Seattle, so I you should not know if her effects from Las Vegas will arrive in dropping 30-plus points. Instead, it could come in hitting shots that swing the momentum back to the Mercury, or placing up her teammates for success (Taurasi averaged 4.9 APG in the regular year, second only to Diggins-Smith). As Storm mentor Noelle Quinn reported Sunday, “Dee gives them automated confidence just by currently being on the floor.”

Voepel: Sue Bird mentioned it greatest soon after the Storm’s decline to Phoenix: It was obvious that Taurasi was not transferring as properly as usual and that she was in some soreness, so Seattle tried using to acquire gain of that.

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But when the player who has scored much more points and hit extra 3-tips than anyone in league heritage is on the court, your protection can not afford to cheat that a lot off her — even if she is a bit hobbled.

“We tried out to make her do things she failed to want to do,” Bird explained of Taurasi. “I think what occurred in extra time was we just built a pair mistakes that gave her two open pictures. And you won’t be able to give a participant like that an open up look whether or not they are on 50 percent a leg or not. That is who she is, and it really is no surprise. That’s why you are not able to make people issues.”

Phoenix mentor Sandy Brondello claimed that Taurasi is the Mercury’s very best passer — and a person of the most effective passers ever in the WNBA. So even when she’s not a menace to score, she fuels the offense. She’s also the teammate who has the most effects on middle Brittney Griner, who feeds off Taurasi’s vitality, praise and admonishments. Griner has been so good this time, but owning Taurasi on the ground with her can make her superior.

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Courtney Vandersloot rips the ball absent from Aerial Powers and normally takes it all the way to rating for the Sky.

What is actually the key matchup that will establish the Chicago-Connecticut series?

Voepel: The guard matchup is likely to be very important. The 6-foot-4 Parker and Connecticut’s 6-6 Jonquel Jones are superstar-level players inside and outdoors. But can the Sky’s guards be as helpful towards Connecticut’s perimeter protection as they were from Minnesota? Sky starters Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley and reserve Diamond DeShields merged for 44 details Sunday. And guard/ahead Kahleah Copper, who had 23 details in the very first spherical vs. Dallas, had 16 details, 10 rebounds and 4 helps vs. Minnesota.

The Sun choose great delight in using aside offenses. But in their two victories about Connecticut this time, the Sky scored 91 and 81 factors. Sun guards Briann January and Jasmine Thomas were being both on the WNBA all-defensive teams, so they will be striving to disrupt the Sky as a great deal as achievable.

David Sherman/NBAE by means of Getty Pictures Copyright 2021 NBAE

Cohen: It’s Parker vs. everybody. Even when she isn’t really the team’s major scorer, Parker as the team’s facilitator impacts the match in other means, be it with her protection in the paint or her ball handling. If Parker is capable to be the chief and the facilitator that carried Chicago to the semifinals, there is a genuine likelihood the Sky could at least push the Sunshine to a whole 5-recreation collection.

Compared to the other six groups that have played so far in the playoffs, the Sky have the greatest factors for each activity, rebounds for each video game and steals for every activity normal. They have the very best point guard in the league in Vandersloot, and usually are not even top the playoff groups in helps for each video game.

What will come to a decision the Phoenix-Las Vegas semifinal matchup?

Voepel: Las Vegas did not engage in Sunday, but a lot of individuals ended up conversing about the Aces on social media. Irrespective of currently being next in the league in defensive score this year, none of their gamers produced the all-defensive teams — made a decision by media vote this calendar year somewhat than coaches. So if the Aces are mad at any individual for their omission, they can be mad at the media. But they could possibly also acquire it out on their opponents.

Liz Cambage, the Aces’ 6-8 centre, returned in the normal-season finale after becoming out with COVID-19. She and 6-4 A’ja Wilson are proficient and acquire up a whole lot of room inside of. Same for 6-3 Kiah Stokes, a excellent pickup for the Aces in early July right after she was waived by New York. She has built her dwelling in the WNBA with her protection. And the 6-3 Dearica Hamby and 6-foot Jackie Young can guard just about everyone on the perimeter or inside.

The Mercury averaged 82.1 PPG in the regular time and 84. in two playoff games. The Aces permitted opponents an typical of 80.2 details — but averaged a league-best 89.3 by themselves. Las Vegas’ protection may well not be as stingy as Connecticut’s, but it really is nevertheless really fantastic. Phoenix can’t afford to pay for significant draughts versus Las Vegas, due to the fact the Aces can operate absent from groups and then not allow comebacks.

Contemplating Griner has been at MVP degree this season, this series will present how considerably progress Cambage has produced with conditioning soon after becoming unwell. Griner is 6-9, and Cambage is a person of the incredibly handful of gamers who can match up with her physically. In the frequent season, Griner experienced 33 details and 10 rebounds and 27 and 11 in the two meetings with Las Vegas in which she played most of the recreation. Since the regular-time finale had no affect on playoff seedings, she performed just over 14 minutes and was limited to 6 points and 4 rebounds. That one particular can be tossed out. The first two reveal how very well Griner can enjoy versus the Aces, and that has to be a issue for them.

Cohen: It may well appear down to how fantastic Griner can be. Of course, their activity in the normal-period finale failed to mean just about anything, but Griner shot just 2-for-7 from the flooring. And that was with Cambage participating in fewer than 10 minutes. That matchup inside of at the rim — and how Griner’s teammates reply to double groups or possible struggles — will make or crack the Mercury. For the reason that the Aces offense is so excellent, as is their protection, the Mercury can’t afford to pay for to make any errors.

Which team are you picking to gain just about every semifinal collection, and why?

Voepel: Connecticut and Las Vegas are the Nos. 1-2 seeds for fantastic motives. I see both advancing to the WNBA Finals, which will imply the league will have a 1st-time winner. I will say both of those series go four games.

Cohen: Connecticut and Las Vegas are equally just so, so fantastic — and have been continuously superior all season. Even so, I believe the Solar have to get in five, and the Aces gain in four.