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2021 WNBA playoffs – Rating the semifinal groups

Identical to all of us predicted, proper? Not precisely. The Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky shook up the 2021 WNBA playoffs on Sunday and lead their respective semifinal collection 2-1. Going into the playoffs, the No. 1-seeded Connecticut Sun and second-seeded Las Vegas Aces appeared on a collision course for a WNBA Finals assembly, however now each want victories on the street Wednesday to maintain their seasons alive.

The Sky obtained 26 factors from spark plug Kahleah Copper plus made key performs down the stretch of their 86-83 victory over Connecticut in Chicago. Whereas that sport went to the wire, the Mercury obtained off to an 11-Zero begin and by no means appeared again in getting their second consecutive rout of Las Vegas, 87-60. They received 117-91 on Thursday.

Phoenix had a playoff-record 58 rebounds, simply 5 in need of the WNBA’s total document of 63 set by the Mercury in 2012. Las Vegas coach Invoice Laimbeer mentioned that in attempting to forestall one other large sport from Diana Taurasi, who had 37 factors Thursday, Las Vegas’ protection opened the door for Brianna Turner (career-high 23 factors, plus 17 rebounds).

“We made a variety of errors right this moment from a training perspective, not from a participant perspective, defensively,” Laimbeer mentioned. “We have to clear that up.”

For Connecticut, coach Curt Miller at all times factors out the magic quantity for the Solar is having 12 or fewer turnovers. On Sunday, they’d 16.

“That will get their tempo going so quick,” Miller mentioned of the Sky.

Can Chicago and Phoenix preserve it going and shut out their collection Wednesday (Eight p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) when the semifinals resume? Which crew has been probably the most spectacular of this collection? Mechelle Voepel ranks the semifinalists, and our panel — ESPN’s Voepel, Kelly Cohen and Kevin Pelton — breaks down the X elements that may decide the WNBA Finals matchup.

1. Phoenix (precise seed: 5): As reported by ESPN’s Holly Rowe, Taurasi has been coping with a excessive ankle sprain and a small fracture in a foot. Her spouse, Penny Taylor, is because of ship their second little one Wednesday, the identical day as Recreation 4. Phoenix guard Sophie Cunningham, whose 3-point capability and dimension on the perimeter are property for Phoenix, went out of Sunday’s sport with a calf damage.

So there’s lots occurring that might distract the Mercury — but there’s such an excellent vibe round this crew now. The connection between submit gamers Brittney Griner and Turner is clicking so nicely. Offense is the Mercury’s longtime power, however the protection Sunday was distinctive. Griner mentioned she actually would not wish to should pack for a return journey to Las Vegas. If the Mercury can play as nicely Wednesday as they did the previous two video games, she doubtless will not should. — Voepel

2. Chicago (precise seed: 6): Chemistry appears to be working nicely for the Sky, too. Even after its Recreation 2 loss, Chicago appeared to know what went flawed — particularly within the fourth quarter of that sport — and find out how to transfer on. This collection has been evenly matched, however Chicago has been in a position to go on the coronary heart of Connecticut’s power — its protection — and win twice.

Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley are the one holdovers on the present roster from the 2014 Sky crew that reached the WNBA Finals. That Chicago crew seven years in the past was 14-19 within the common season however actually put it collectively to get to the Finals. This yr, the Sky have been 16-16 within the common season, however we noticed stretches — like their back-to-back wins at Seattle in August — by which they appeared like championship contenders. They’ve had stretches in these semifinals by which they appear like that once more. — Voepel

3. Connecticut (precise seed: 1): Together with turnovers, Miller was involved concerning the Solar’s offensive rebounding Sunday, particularly within the first half. Connecticut was outrebounded 35-30 and had simply seven on the offensive glass.

The Solar have not performed poorly, however they are not constantly doing the issues that they have been doing all season. And Jonquel Jones hasn’t checked out MVP degree the previous two video games. She has to have a powerful end to the collection, and the Solar should preserve the tempo at which they’re snug. Within the two losses, the Sky’s offense has had the final phrase. — Voepel

4. Las Vegas (precise seed: 2): The Aces’ gradual begins are actually hurting them. They trailed by 9 factors on the finish of the primary quarter within the collection opener, which they ended up profitable by six. In Recreation 2, they trailed after the opening interval by 17 and misplaced by 26. In Recreation 3, they have been down seven after one quarter and misplaced by 27.

Aces middle Liz Cambage mentioned, “I actually suppose we have simply obtained to come back out with power.” Additionally they have to determine their defensive schemes, which have not labored. They usually should hit pictures. The unity that appears to exist for Phoenix would not appear there for Las Vegas. However a win Wednesday may change that. — Voepel

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Courtney Vandersloot passes to Kahleah Copper, who drains a 3-pointer for the Sky.

What’s the important thing matchup for Connecticut-Chicago in Recreation 4?

Pelton: Alyssa Thomas vs. Candace Parker. One factor this collection has uncovered is the Solar lack the late-game shot creation Courtney Williams supplied throughout the 2019 Finals run. On Sunday, that duty fell to Thomas, who initiated performs with an on-ball display earlier than working one-on-one — usually towards Parker. That labored nicely for Connecticut till Thomas missed one among her shot put makes an attempt with an opportunity to provide the Solar the lead.

Cohen: Jonquel Jones vs. anybody. Thomas has bailed out the Solar on this collection and her play has been spectacular. However you realize what was additionally spectacular? How Jones led the Solar all season. I perceive Jones is struggling a bit within the playoffs, however she is why the Solar obtained the No. 1 seed. I wish to see the ball in her arms extra late within the sport, and I wish to see her taking management. JJ is the MVP, and if the Solar are going to keep away from elimination, she has to play just like the MVP.

Voepel: Courtney Vandersloot vs. the Connecticut protection. Sloot’s playmaking has been the center of the Sky’s success on this collection, prefer it has all season. She had a document 18 assists within the first sport and 13 in Recreation 3. She had six in Recreation 2, which is not unhealthy, however the Solar protection took management of that sport and restricted Chicago to 9 factors within the fourth quarter and 68 total.

What’s the important thing matchup for Las Vegas-Phoenix in Recreation 4?

Pelton: A’ja Wilson vs. Brianna Turner. Sunday’s 2-of-14 taking pictures marked simply the third time in Wilson’s WNBA profession that she posted a adverse sport rating (minus-0.8). Wilson was significantly better in Recreation 2, when she threatened a triple-double earlier than ending with seven assists, however the Aces have been outscored by 47 factors in her 57 minutes of motion over the previous two video games — unthinkable for the 2020 MVP. Turner’s protection has been a giant issue. So was her ending on Sunday, when Turner exploited double-teams on Brittney Griner to attain 23 factors, a playoff profession excessive.

Voepel: The Aces guards vs. the Mercury protection. Within the opener, Kelsey Plum, Riquna Williams and Chelsea Gray mixed for 68 factors for Las Vegas. That they had 52 in Recreation 2 — however simply 19 in Recreation 3. And Grey had a season-low one help Sunday. Las Vegas wants them large time once more in Recreation 4.

Cohen: The Aces are getting destroyed on the glass, and the disparity in Sunday’s sport — Phoenix received the rebounding battle 58-29 — is inconceivable to look previous. Las Vegas was additionally outrebounded in Recreation 2, 36-23. As Pelton talked about, if Turner is holding Wilson busy, the Aces cannot afford Cambage or Kiah Stokes struggling on the glass. The Mercury’s offense has been so lights out the previous two video games that the Aces should a minimum of rebound higher and take away a few of Phoenix’s possibilities to maintain draining buckets.

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Brianna Turner finishes off two lobs with layups within the first quarter for the Mercury.

What participant has been the most important shock (good or unhealthy) within the WNBA semifinals?

Pelton: Jonquel Jones. Since scoring 26 factors in Recreation 1, the MVP has been largely invisible on offense the previous two video games, totaling 14 factors on 7-of-20 taking pictures. Getting the dominant Jones we noticed all common season will go an extended methods towards serving to Connecticut come again.

Voepel: We could not ensure what sort of postseason Chicago’s Azurá Stevens would have, as she had appeared in just one playoff sport beforehand. However she has had some large contributions, together with a 15-point, 11-rebound efficiency Sunday.

Cohen: Can I choose your entire Chicago roster? I’m so impressed by how nicely his crew is enjoying. The Sky bamboozled most individuals who watched all of them season, by no means discovering any consistency and shedding video games they need to have received. Vandersloot is presumably the perfect level guard the WNBA has ever seen, and playoff Candace Parker is an incredible factor to witness. And, after all, all the opposite gamers on the Sky are enjoying their roles, becoming in and serving to the crew peak on the good time.

Which groups are you selecting to succeed in the WNBA Finals?

Pelton: Connecticut and Phoenix. These upcoming Recreation 4s — or Video games 4, Rebecca Lobo? — are enjoyable due to the strain on each groups. Clearly, the highest two seeds should win or be eradicated, however there’s additionally strain on the decrease groups to shut out at residence moderately than return on the street for a Recreation 5. I do not suppose the Solar are far-off from flipping the collection. Las Vegas’ matchup issues appear harder to beat.

Cohen: Selecting that is so demanding. Heading into the semifinals, I used to be sure it might be Connecticut vs. Las Vegas, however now I am going with Chicago and Phoenix.

Voepel: I lean the identical method as Kevin: The Chicago-Connecticut collection has been so shut, and the Solar nonetheless have not performed their greatest defensive sport. If they’ll do this Wednesday, they take the momentum again to Connecticut for Recreation 5. Phoenix is feeling it, and the Mercury will do all they’ll to shut it out Wednesday.

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