Three Keys For The Mercury In The WNBA Semifinals

By Patrick Ralph

 

The two best teams in the Western Conference this year, the Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury, will square off in a best-of-five series in the semifinal round of the WNBA playoffs. Both teams know each other very well, as the Mercury and Storm met five times this season.

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After meeting in the preseason twice, Seattle and Phoenix squared off three times during the regular season. Despite the majority of the games being played in Phoenix, the Storm won the season series 2-1 against the Mercury. Not to mention, both teams faced off in the opening round of the playoffs last year in Phoenix, where the Mercury rolled past the Storm 79-69.

The two rivals feature two of the best offenses in the WNBA, both of which can score a lot of points and play fast. Furthermore, six All-Stars and both head coaches from this year’s All-Star Game will be featured as well.

Since they had a better record and higher seed, Seattle will have home-court advantage in this series and is the favorite to advance to the WNBA Finals. But expect this series to be extremely competitive and fun, especially if Phoenix can take care of business in three specific areas of the game.

 

No. 1 Seattle Storm (26-8) vs. No. 5 Phoenix Mercury (20-14)

 

How we got here

Mercury: Defeated Dallas 101-83 in the first round, defeated Connecticut 96-86 in the second round.

Storm: Had double-bye into semifinals

 

Schedule

*= if necessary

Sunday, August 26

Phoenix at Seattle

Game 1: 5 p.m. ET, TV: ESPN2

 

Tuesday, August 28

Phoenix at Seattle

Game 2: 10 p.m. ET, TV: ESPN2

 

Friday, August 31

Seattle at Phoenix

Game 3: 10 p.m. ET, TV: TBD

 

Sunday, September 2

Seattle at Phoenix

*Game 4: TBD, TV: ESPN2

 

Tuesday, September 4

Phoenix at Seattle

*Game 5: TBD, TV: TBD


 

Three Keys to Victory for Phoenix

  1. Controlling the pace: Both teams want to run up and down the floor, get out in transition, and play their version of a run-and-gun style offense. Both teams are statistically identical in terms of pace. However, it is in Phoenix’s best interest to slow games down in this series against Seattle. While both teams can play at a sprint-like tempo, Phoenix is better equipped to adjust to a more physical, grind-it-out style of play. The Mercury, unlike the Storm, have the experience of executing and winning close playoff games down the stretch. Furthermore, Phoenix can play better in the half court if need be than Seattle. If the games are close late and the Mercury are able to contain and force the Storm to play in the half court, give the advantage to Phoenix. If the game speed picks up and increases, Seattle has the advantage and will want to run away with games rather than get into rock fights. Therefore, the Mercury need to control the pace of this series in order to win.

 

  1. Playing good defense: Playing good defense goes hand-in-hand with controlling the game tempo for Phoenix in this series. In Seattle’s two wins over Phoenix this year, the Storm shot an average of nearly 53 percent from the field and over 44 percent from three. Seattle, which shot a league-best 47 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc this year, was held to 38 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent shooting from three in its only loss to the Mercury this year. This year, the Mercury held opponents to the second-lowest (second only to the Atlanta Dream) field goal percentage in the WNBA. Therefore, if Phoenix’s strong defense can force Seattle into taking both contested and lower percentage shots that the Storm do not want, the Mercury have a great chance to pull off the series win. Phoenix knows that it will get plenty of offense in this series, but will it have enough defense to contain Seattle? Stay tuned.

 

  1. Hitting three-pointers: One of the keys to Phoenix’s offense this year has been its ability to make three-pointers. In fact, the Mercury shot and made the second-most threes in the league this season, second only to Seattle in both categories. They also had the fourth-best three-point percentage in the WNBA this year (36 percent). Diana Taurasi led the league in three-pointers made, while Briann January had the highest three-point percentage in the WNBA this season. However, the Storm held opponents to the third-lowest three-point percentage, as well as to the second-fewest (second only to the Los Angeles Sparks) three-point field goals made and attempted in the league this year. In its two losses to Seattle this season, Phoenix shot an average of 29 percent from behind the three-point line. However, when the Mercury bested the Storm in their lone game at Key Arena in Seattle this year, Phoenix shot 40 percent from three. If the Mercury are consistently hitting threes, they can be one of the most unstoppable offenses in the league. But when Phoenix is off from deep, that is typically not a good sign for its offense. Look for the Mercury to establish the deep ball early and often in this series.