WNBA Playoffs: It's Star Wars in the West as Phoenix and Minnesota Offer an All-Time Battle
It’s the matchup that everybody wanted to see since the first ball was tossed back in May.
Much to the delight of women’s basketball fans everywhere, the inevitable Western Conference showdown between the reigning WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury begins Friday night at the U.S. Airways Center in the Arizona desert. The game starts at 10 p.m. on NBA-TV.
If you don't have a subscription to NBA-TV or the league's Live Access package on your tablets, computers or mobile phones, at least you get a chance to see what the commotion is about Sunday on broadcast TV when ABC airs Game 2 from Minneapolis.
One has to go back to the Houston Comets-Los Angeles Sparks wars in the West in the early WNBA era or the classic Sparks-Detroit Shock league title tilt in 2003 to find anything as anticipated or this past season's Connecticut-Notre Dame NCAA title showdown or the former UConn-Tennessee wars in college when it comes to women's hoops.
But given the growth in crowds in the two Western Conference cities and TV ratings in the WNBA, this could be the topper which, by the way, includes two UConn all-timers with the 1-2 league MVP punch of 2014-winning Maya Moore on the Lynx and Diana Taurasi with Phoenix.
In a few weeks the duo will be teammates again in the latest incarnation of UConn Generations under USA Basketball Commander Geno Auriemma, their former Huskies mentor.
But for now, however, let the competitive juices flow.
Both UConn graduates have raised the bar of excellence for the sport and inspired their team to achieve greatness.
They have each won two WNBA titles during their careers in which they deserve to be called two of the greatest women's ballers on the planrt.
Perhaps the Mercury should fly in Michael Buffer to do his trademark, “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” for this showdown.
The winner of the series will meet the Indiana-Chicago survivor in the WNBA Finals beginning Sunday, Sept. 7 in the city of the Western champion. How can you not be hyped and excited for this series.
Both teams have combined to win an amazing 54 regular season games this year.
They were by far and away the best teams in the league.
The Lynx and Mercury have a healthy respect and a mutual dislike for each other.
The Mercury won the season series, 3-1, but in reality the teams split two meetings when they were at full strength.
Minnesota ended Phoenix’s franchise record 16-game winning streak in July.
Ten days later, the Mercury stopped the Lynx’s 11-game winning streak with a dramatic 82-80 victory that has whetted the appetite for this anticipated rematch.
After the July match-up, Phoenix’s Taurasi remarked that she’ll be ready for football when the teams played again as a response to the Lynx’s physicality in that contest.
Minnesota is looking to become the first team since the Comets to advance to four consecutive WNBA Finals.
Phoenix wants to finish a season for the ages by completing its championship mission which would add to the trophy case which houses hardware from conquests in 2007 and 2009 when oldtime Big East rivals Taurasi and former Rutgers great Cappie Pondexter, now with the New York Liberty, were teammates.
The stars are aligned for this best-of-three series. The second game is Sunday in Minnesota with the decisive game, if necessary, Tuesday night in Phoenix.
The Lynx enter this series having won nine consecutive playoff games after beating San Antonio in two hard-fought games in the opening round.
Winners of a WNBA-record 29 regular season games, the Mercury dispatched the Sparks in two games, winning the second game on the road, 93-68, impressively behind Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner’s perfect 9-for-9 shooting effort and 21-point performance that included a two-handed breakaway dunk.
Taurasi is the WNBA's second all-time leading scorer in history while Moore had a season to cherish and mere adjectives aren’t adequate to describe what she accomplished.
For the regular season, Moore played in all 34 games and paced the league in scoring (23.9 ppg), the third-highest average in WNBA history behind the 25.3 ppg and 24.1 ppg by Taurasi in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Moore had perhaps her best outing of the season in a 112-108 double-overtime win over the visiting Atlanta Dream on July 22.
In the victory, she tallied a career-high 48 points, marking the second-highest single-game total in WNBA history.
Four games later, in an 84-75 victory at Tulsa on Aug. 2, Moore posted 40 points to break the league record for the most 30-point games in a single season.
She also finished the season ranked atop the WNBA in made field goals (295) and was second in minutes (34.7 mpg) and free throws made (160). Moore placed eighth in rebounding (8.1 rpg), tied for third in three-point field goals made (62), fourth in free throw percentage (.884, 160-of-181), tied for fourth in steals (1.88 spg), sixth in double-doubles (10), and20th in assists (3.4 apg).
In addition to leading her club in scoring, Moore placed second on the Lynx in rebounding and assists, and third in blocks (0.82 bpg).
She earned three of the four Western Conference Player of the Month presented by Samsung awards and was named the conference’s Player of the Week five times, becoming the first player in league history to win Player of the Week honors in four consecutive weeks.
The difference for the Mercury this season has been their staunch defense and unbelievable chemistry.
They also had laser-like focus all season under Sandy Brondello who won coach of the year honors in her first season in Phoenix.
A fun-loving team off the court, the Mercury reacted to earning the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs by dispensing with any champagne-laced hoopla after beating New York earlier this month at Madison Square Garden.
“Well, I think the biggest thing is I focused on defense, and that was the focus all season long, and in the past it's not something that really was one of the strengths or that I really worked on,” Brondello said during a pre-playoff conference call.
“Credit to the players. Obviously I have a veteran team. I have some talented players, have some great players. They bought into the style of play that I wanted to implement, and they keep growing. They have great chemistry. So I think that's the biggest change this season.”
In the win over the Lynx on August 10, the Mercury stormed back from a 13-point first half deficit and survived a Moore scoring onslaught.
Griner blocked Lindsay Whalen’s potential game-tying shot. Taurasi sank the game-winner in that contest with 2.2 seconds remaining.
She dropped 34 points in the first game against the Sparks, a narrow 75-72 win.
Complementing Griner and Taurasi are Penny Taylor, DeWanna Bonner and former Temple star Candice Dupree. Taylor and Dupree are also two of the top 20 scorers in WNBA history.
The Lynx can match veteran firepower with the Mercury.
Aside from Moore, who was awesome this season, Minnesota’s core featuring Seimone Augustus, Whalen, Janel McCarvale and Rebekkah Brunson are a well-functioning machine.
Together, Moore and Augustus were the best scoring duo in the WNBA, averaging 40.4 points of Minnesota’s 81.6 point per game total.
Whalen willed the Lynx to an amazing game two win over the Silver Stars in the first round by scoring 31 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Minnesota overcame an early 22-4 deficit to beat San Antonio and end the great career of Becky Hammon, who will transition into her new pioneering role for female sports notables as Spurs assistant coach in the NBA.
Forgive the redundancy but this series promises to be entertaining, fiercely fought, and played at an incredibly high level.
This is what everybody has wanted to see: The two best teams going head-to-head for a trip to the Finals. It doesn’t get any better than that.
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