The WNBA Finals are set, and this series has a lot on the line. The Phoenix Mercury are looking for their fourth franchise title, and the Chicago Sky are looking for their first, but the history of the two is what makes this rematch so special.
Phoenix swept Chicago 3-0 to take home their third title. Diana Taurasi and Courtney Vandersloot met in the dying seconds of that decisive Game 3, where Taurasi hit the winning and-one shot to clinch the series for Phoenix.
Now, wielding the added power of hometown kid Candace Parker -- who will want to prove her move to the Sky was worth it -- Chicago is looking to avenge that loss.
As the two meet again in the Finals seven years after they last did, here is a preview of what to expect in the matchup between Phoenix and Chicago.
The 2021 season
Neither team secured a high enough seed to make the bye rounds, each playing two single-elimination games before making it to the semi-finals. Chicago was the sixth seed with a 16-16 regular season record, while Phoenix was the fifth seed with a 19-13 record.
When the two teams met during the regular season, Phoenix won all three meetings. The first game was decided by one point, and the second was a three-point win for the Mercury, but Game 3 broke that narrow mould. When the two met on the final day of August, it was a 20-point win for Phoenix.
Looking at the veteran presence on each team, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi were both unavailable for the teams’ first two meetings due to injury, but in the third game when both were healthy, Parker was held to just two points while Taurasi went off for 17 -- a performance the Sky will have to hope was an anomaly.
By the numbers
Whether it be their starting five or bench, both teams have insane talent on their rosters and, with both clubs fully healthy, the matchups will be interesting -- to say the least.
On the one hand, the Chicago Sky are led in scoring by Kahleah Copper, who averaged 14.4 points per game this season, with Parker finishing second highest on the team with 13.3 points per game but also averaging 8.4 rebounds per game. Courtney Vandersloot is known for her dime-dishing ability, averaging 8.6 per game.
For Phoenix, Griner was averaging a near double-double this season with an average of 20.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and Skylar Diggins-Smith poured in an average of 17.7 points and 5.3 assists per night. Taurasi also averaged 15.2 points, and leads the league in three-pointers made this season with 23.
Looking at weaknesses statistically, Phoenix are likely to have more turnovers than their opponent as they committed 13.7 on average to their opponents 10.9, but out-rebounded their opponents on average 36.2 to 34.9 per game.
As for Chicago, rebounding is something they will need to work on -- especially with a physical team like Phoenix -- as they allowed their opponents to grab 35.9 rebounds to their 35 per game. Chicago, however, picks up points from ball movement, averaging 21.8 assists per game to their opponents 18.8.
Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum (10) lays up the ball as Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner (21) defends during the second half of Game 1 in the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Aces beat the Mercury 96-90. (Steve Marcus/AP)
Key players to watch
Beyond the key players that have already been mentioned, both teams have deep rosters that will factor into these Finals and be on the opposing coach’s radar when plotting how to best prepare.
Chicago has Diamond DeShields, a guard who is versatile and brings explosiveness to their already stacked offence, and Stef Dolson, a centre who can come off the bench and shoot from anywhere on the floor as well as bring length from the paint or get on the boards. Allie Quigley is another key player for Chicago, a three-point specialist who also has elite court vision.
Phoenix will be without a key defender and shooter after losing Kia Nurse to an ACL tear. But their defence will be buoyed by having WNBA first-team defender Brianna Turner in their lineup still, who can not only pressure players into off-balance shots or turnovers but can get on the glass as well, averaging 9.4 rebounds per game in the regular season.
Bria Hartley, Shey Peddy and Sophie Cunningham will also be a dangerous trio off the bench for the Mercury as they all have had breakout performances offensively.
Though Phoenix won all three games in the regular season, they had to take the Las Vegas Aces to a Game 5 situation that went to the dying seconds, while Chicago handled the first-seeded Connecticut Sun with ease in four games to punch their ticket to the finals.
Chicago may have to wait until Game 3 to experience their home court, but they won the road game in Minnesota in the second round of the playoffs as well as the first game of their semi-final series against Connecticut on the road.
Upsetting both their second-round opponent as well as their semi-final matchups, these teams will be hungry for wins and will push games to overtime to ensure they pull out a win and keep their title dreams alive, so a series that goes to Game 5 would be more expected than anything.