Candace Parker is way from content material. The Chicago Sky star had simply helped her workforce advance to the second spherical of the 2021 WNBA playoffs, however she was gradual to have fun after Thursday’s 81-64 victory.
“What’s there to be glad about?” Parker stated. “We received one playoff recreation.”
And issues solely get harder for Parker’s sixth-seeded Sky — in addition to the No. 5 seed Phoenix Mercury, who additionally received Thursday to achieve the second spherical. Each groups hit the street for one more single-elimination recreation.
The defending champion Seattle Storm, the No. Four seed, host Phoenix on Sunday (Three p.m. ET, ABC) in a recreation that would pit WNBA legends Sue Chicken and Diana Taurasi. The Sky play on the third-seeded Minnesota Lynx (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2), a recreation that additionally includes a matchup of two of the best all-time gamers in WNBA historical past, as Parker squares off towards Sylvia Fowles.
Taurasi (ankle), who has been restricted to 16 video games this season due to accidents, sat out Phoenix’s recreation Thursday, carrying a boot on the sideline. And we’re monitoring the standing of Seattle’s Breanna Stewart (foot), who has been out since struggling the damage on Sept. 7.
We check out what to anticipate and what would possibly influence Sunday’s second-round video games, and predict which groups will win.
What participant impressed you most in Thursday’s first-round wins and is somebody who will influence the second spherical?
Voepel: Kahleah Copper was 10-of-14 from the sphere for Chicago and the highest defender for the Sky. She had a robust efficiency and shall be a vital issue if Chicago is to upset Minnesota.
However Candace Parker was simply so omnipresent in Thursday’s recreation with 11 factors, 15 rebounds and seven assists. And she is going to want one other massive recreation to attempt to get Chicago into the semifinals.
The Sky and Lynx met twice within the common season, with Chicago successful 105-89 on June 15, and Minnesota successful 101-95 on Aug. 21. Parker had 12 factors and 7 rebounds within the first recreation and was out with an damage for the second.
Sophie Cunningham was the opposite participant who stood out Thursday. The Phoenix guard made 6 of seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 21 factors. With Taurasi (ankle) out, the Mercury wanted offense and Cunningham was in a position to present it, together with the standard aggressive hearth she brings.
Cunningham wore No. Three up till her WNBA profession, as that quantity belongs to Taurasi in Phoenix. Now No. 9, Cunningham did her greatest Taurasi impersonation Thursday, capturing from lengthy vary (and selecting up a technical).
The Mercury now hope that Taurasi shall be again to face Seattle. However with or with out her, getting extra massive 3-pointers from Cunningham will assist Phoenix quite a bit.
Cohen: Courtney Vandersloot impressed me probably the most. She’s one of the best level guard within the league and proved that Thursday. Her means to slash by way of defenders was merely unbelievable, particularly within the third quarter when the Sky seemed uninspired and struggled offensively on the boards. Vandersloot completed with 17 factors, Eight rebounds and 6 assists. Vandersloot’s ball motion shall be essential towards Minnesota, which has a strong protection.
What’s the important thing matchup that may decide the Chicago-Minnesota second-round recreation?
Voepel: Two of the best gamers in WNBA historical past — the 1-2 picks within the 2008 draft — meet once more. That is Parker and Sylvia Fowles, whose rivalry goes all the way in which again to their SEC days at Tennessee and LSU.
Whereas the 6-foot-6 Fowles is the basic low-block heart and Parker is a cell 6-Four ahead/heart, they may deal with one another within the paint. Fowles had 14 factors and 9 rebounds within the first assembly with the Sky and 15 and 6 within the second.
Parker turned 35 in April, and Fowles shall be 36 in October. Whereas each are nonetheless two of probably the most feared gamers within the WNBA, we do not know precisely how for much longer now we have left to see them, so relish each alternative (this theme shall be repeated within the different second-round matchup).
Cohen: I am going with a key stat as an alternative of a key matchup: turnovers. The Sky and Lynx each common about the identical quantity of giveaways. Each groups common across the similar in factors off turnovers. So whichever workforce takes higher care of the ball will win.
With Diana Taurasi and Breanna Stewart nursing accidents, what is going to determine the Phoenix-Seattle matchup?
Voepel: Taurasi was pressured to observe the Mercury stroll a tightrope in holding off an upset try by New York on Thursday. Will she get to face off towards longtime pal and UConn/USA Basketball teammate Sue Chicken on Sunday? With Taurasi at 39 and Chicken turning 41 in October, we do not wish to take as a right them matching up once more. Particularly because the Storm and Mercury have such a playoff historical past towards one another that has helped outline among the largest moments of their WNBA careers. No person who noticed it would neglect the groups’ epic battle in Recreation 5 of the semifinals in 2018, when Chicken took over the fourth quarter.
If Seattle has Stewart, that provides the Storm the sting. However with out her they need to play a special method, relying much more on their perimeter capturing and hoping second-year heart Ezi Magbegor can provide them good, high quality minutes. She did that in two of the Storm’s remaining three video games, scoring 15 factors in every.
The Mercury do not essentially need to play in another way if they do not have Taurasi. They only need to depend upon different guards hitting sufficient photographs, which they did Thursday.
Betnijah Laney ties the sport for New York, however Phoenix’s Brianna Turner will get fouled and hits certainly one of her free throws within the Mercury’s 83-82 win.
Cohen: I am trying ahead to 2 matchups. Phoenix’s Skylar Diggins-Smith and Seattle’s Jewell Loyd are fairly acquainted with each other’s recreation, not simply because they have been on the USA Basketball gold-medal successful Olympic workforce this summer time, however as a result of they overlapped as stars at Notre Dame. They each ended the regular-season on sizzling streaks, and their matchup within the backcourt shall be intense and thrilling.
The matchup within the paint between Phoenix’s Brittney Griner and Seattle’s Mercedes Russell ought to be one other X issue. Griner had a gradual begin towards the New York Liberty, struggling towards their fast double groups and swarming protection. However she completed with a double-double and added three blocks. When the Mercury have been struggling early, they seemed their greatest offensively when the ball was working by way of Griner.
The final time these two groups performed, on Sept. 17, neither Griner nor Russell performed good protection towards each other. Griner was 10-of-16 from the sphere and Russell was 7-of-9. This submit matchup ought to be one.
Which workforce are you selecting to win every recreation, and why?
Voepel: Minnesota was the favourite for a number of years with its dynasty groups. Now, the Lynx usually tend to attempt to embrace the “ignored underdog” position, regardless that they’re the No. Three seed. No person’s shopping for it, although; the Lynx are a extremely good workforce and bought a lift when injured guard/ahead Aerial Powers returned Aug. 21. In eight of the 10 video games since she returned, she has scored in double figures, together with a career-high-tying 27 factors within the regular-season finale.
The Lynx most likely have somewhat higher concept what they may get from everybody, the place the Sky have the Diamond DeShields issue: Will she be extra just like the participant who scored 30 of their regular-season finale or the one who was 1-of-Eight for 4 factors Thursday?
All of it provides as much as me giving the sting to Minnesota on this recreation.
As for Phoenix-Seattle, a lot is determined by Taurasi and Stewart and whether or not they play. However even when they do not, we’ll see if Griner can will her workforce to victory, as a result of she shall be such a important a part of the Mercury attempting to win in Seattle.
In the end, I lean somewhat towards the Storm to take this one, nevertheless it might go all the way down to the wire just like the first-round recreation between the Mercury and New York.
No. 1 seed Connecticut and No. 2 Las Vegas shall be watching to see who’s subsequent for them. The Solar and Aces earned the double bye, so each shall be balancing their relaxation with their preparation for the rest of this week.
Cohen: I predicted the Lynx to achieve the convention finals in ESPN’s playoff predictions heading into the postseason, however the Sky and Lynx are much more evenly matched than I spotted — particularly with regards to their bench gamers. However Minnesota has a greater protection — although it is by a slim margin — and is my decide to beat Chicago.
Originally of the week, I used to be sure Phoenix was going to upset Seattle ought to they meet, particularly with out a totally wholesome Breanna Stewart. The Mercury needed to pull out some late-game heroics Thursday to win their first-round elimination recreation. That might usually trigger pause, however after such a gutsy win, I feel they experience that prime proper right into a Storm upset.