WNBA Playoffs 2018: Phoenix Mercury at Seattle Storm

An overview of the best-of-3 semifinals series between the Phoenix Mercury and the Seattle Storm in the 2018 WNBA Playoffs.

2018 WNBA Playoffs Semifinals (Best-of-5 Series)

Phoenix Mercury at Seattle Storm
Sunday, August 26, 5:00 ET (Game 1)
ESPN2 (televised), Key Arena, Seattle, Washington (local)

General Overview

The #5-seeded Phoenix Mercury kept Diana Taurasi’s single-elimination round intact (she moved to 13-0) across her career) as she helped the Mercury defeat the Connecticut Sun for the second year in a row, also in a single-elimination round, to move on to the best-of-three semifinals series against the #1-seeded Seattle Storm. Seattle, as the top seed, maintains the home-court advantage throughout the series. The Storm beat the Mercury twice during the preseason and twice during the regular season, but that was then and this is now.

When it comes to the playoffs, it’s a different story. Phoenix defeated Seattle in the 2007 semifinals en route to the Mercury’s first franchise championship, again in 2011 semifinals, and last year in the first round of the playoffs.

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This is going to be a game of chicken and seeing who blinks first. Both teams bring defense, rim protection, and beyond-the-arc shooting. Seattle has the edge, however, by virtue of a deeper bench and a healthy roster.

The GOAT Chronicles

Is there ever a dull moment when the two best guards, All-Stars, and former MVPs in the league go at it? Sue Bird will lead the Storm against her former UConn college teammate Taurasi and her Phoenix team. Ironically, these are also two of the oldest players in the league, with Bird having the dubious distinction of being the oldest player in the league (Taurasi is 36; Bird will be 38 in October).

Both of them, especially Taurasi, are playing great basketball this season and their mutual chess matches are something to behold. The sheer amount of experience between these two will be key as they try to lead their teams one step closer to the championship trophy.

MVP Watch

Seattle’s Breanna Stewart is the prohibitive favorite to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award for 2018, though Phoenix’s Brittney Griner is also in the running. They’ll both be joined by former MVPs Taurasi and Bird. That’s a lot of high basketball IQs among such a small group of people.

Experience Matters

Much like the Connecticut Sun team that was dispatched by the Mercury, the Seattle Storm has fewer players with playoff experience. And like Connecticut, this lack may hurt the Storm. The Mercury are in their sixth consecutive playoff appearance, a franchise record, but haven’t been able to get past the semifinal round for the past two seasons. Seattle, by contrast, spent the last six seasons (including this one) making it no further than the semifinals 2013, missing the playoffs altogether in 2014 and 2015, and losing in the first round in 2016 and 2017.

Balancing Act

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma was once quoted as attributing wins to “We have Diana Taurasi and they don’t.”  While Taurasi has been a key part of Phoenix’s run to the semifinals, the weight of winning has mainly fallen on the shoulders of the Mercury’s Big Three: Taurasi, Griner, and DeWanna Bonner. Seattle has the more balanced method of attack and can find holes in the Mercury’s sometimes porous defense. especially when Seattle’s Courtney Paris is on the floor; still, all roads to victory go through Sue Bird. The Storm has a premium rim protector in Natasha Howard (who should be Defensive Player of the Year, in my humble opinion), an extremely talented two-way player in Stewart, snipers in Jewell Loyd, Alysha Clark and of course Bird; and bench sparks in Paris and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. Oh, and a rookie, Jordin Canada, who is fast, can read the floor well and excels in getting to the basket.

Pump It Up

Seattle, because of its #1 seed, also had the luxury of a double-bye: the Storm didn’t have to play for an entire week while other teams slogged through the single-elimination rounds and racked up travel miles. They will be well rested and would have likely gotten some team practices in while the Mercury had to fly from Arizona to Connecticut, then back to Arizona for a day before flying to Seattle, all while playing three intense games in the past week with little to no practice. Energy levels may be a deciding factor in who takes the games needed to win this series.

Prediction

As usual, it doesn’t pay to bet against Taurasi and her sheer will, especially when the ghost of last year’s semifinals sweep at the hands of Los Angeles still lingers, and the 2016 semifinals sweep by the Minnesota Lynx before that.

Even though Seattle has advantages that could tip the scales in its favor (home court advantage, deeper bench, time to rest, no travel), you never know what the Mercury will pull out of its hat with its extensive playoff experience; the third time may be the charm for Phoenix in the semifinals. This series may come down to Game 3, in which case all of the playing and travel may have caught up to Phoenix.  This semifinal series could really go either way, though Seattle gets the slight nod.

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