Phoenix completed an unexpected comeback last night, beating Seattle 77-75 in Seattle to gain the Western finals for the 3rd straight year and 4th out of 5. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever advanced in the East, more or less as expected.
The Mercury win at Seattle provides a cautionary tale for the Lynx. The #2-seeded Storm hammered Phoenix 80-61 in their 1st game. Not only had the Storm beaten the Mercury 11 times in their last 12 meetings, but the Storm had defending regular season and playoff MVP Lauren Jackson back from injuries. Sure, Jackson was still running closer to half rather than full-speed but her 13 points and 6 boards were a welcome indicator that Seattle was ready to play playoff basketball.
Well, Phoenix won the 2nd game down at Phoenix 92-83 as Diana Taurasi and Candace Dupree combined for 55 points. But, hey, the series would be back in Seattle for the 3rd and deciding game. And sure enough, Seattle stormed to a 26-9 lead early in the 2nd quarter. But it was Phoenix who did the storming after that, getting within 39-30 at the half and tying it up at 48 in the 3rd. Neither team led by more than 3 the rest of the way, and it was tied up again at 75 on a Sue Bird jump shot for Seattle at 15 seconds. But Dupree's put-back at 1.9 seconds put Phoenix back into the WNBA semis, and Seattle into an unexpected date with the off-season.
Like Seattle, the Lynx entered their series with San Antone as a solid favorite. But after a nip-and-tuck win in game 1 and a decisive defeat in game 2, the Lynx can be seen as beatable. Yes, they've still defeated the Stars 6-of-the-last-7, but the Stars have to be feeling confident going into game 3. It is they who have their key, injured player, Danielle Adams, back. By analogy (with Phoenix-Seattle), that would play to the Lynx' advantage. But on the court, Adams has helped to neutralize Rebakah Brunson, at least in terms of scoring, and has helped to force with Lynx to score mostly from the perimeter. More inside presence tonight might be a pre-requisite for a Lynx win. The better analogy may be Jackson's inability to push Seattle to a win, though in her case the scoring was there but the rebounding and D were lacking. For Brunson and the Lynx, it's been the other way around.
Nevertheless, the key match-up is Lindsay Whalen vs. the Stars' veteran 1 Becky Hammon. Whalen has handled Hammon all year, except the other night in San Antone. A reversal there would be an even bigger pre-req to a Lynx win than Brunson's re-emergence on the offensive end.
But the bottom line is that the team with the better FG percentage will win. Last Friday it was the Lynx; Sunday it was the Stars. Who's it gonna be tonight?