The Indiana Fever and the Minnesota Lynx face off in the first game of the WNBA Finals on Sunday, October 4th. The Lynx being here are no surprise; they have been the best team, statistically, all year long. The Fever, on the other hand? Not so much.
In my predictions column earlier this year, I had them pegged as a pretty mediocre team. They barely outscored their opponents, their record was bleh, and they really didn't have any buzz around them. Their only saving grace (and mine) was that they had a strong RPI, and that could hypothetically explain why they may have had a less than ideal season to that point.
If you had asked me to rank the Eastern Conference in order of championship ability, I would've ranked the Fever dead last out of all the playoffs team. In fact, out of the eight teams that started the playoffs, I would've had them at fifth, or maybe even sixth, depending on how I was feeling that day.
I say all this to say: I was wrong. The Fever are pretty good. They deserve to be here.
In this article, we're going to go over two categories: team stats and how they compare, and then do the same with the starters and bench players.
PART I: TEAM STATISTICS
- 73.6 PPG
- 71.4 OPPG
- 36.2 RBS
- 30.0 OPRBS
- 15.4 AST
- 17.0 OPAST
- 3.8/12.2 3PT
- 5.4/13.6 OP3PT
- 77.3 PPG
- 74.5 OPPG
- 30.3 RBS
- 32.5 OPRBS
- 15.6 AST
- 18.8 OPAST
- 5.2/15.2 3PT
- 5.3/13.8 OP3PT
The Fever have improved their potential differential substantially since we last took a look at them. It's nearly three points now, and that would be one of the better marks in the entire WNBA. Their points per game number is also really good; essentially the same as it was during the regular season, when it was fourth best overall.
It now sits as the third best number of all playoff teams. The defense stands as the fourth best in terms of points given up, by they are closer to the fifth-place Los Angeles Sparks than the third-place New York Liberty, whom they bounced last round.
The Lynx have not had a good offense in the playoffs. In fact, it's been the second-worst of all playoff teams. It's required a bit of defensive brilliance to balance it out: they have had the second-best scoring defense out of every playoff team.
They have given up only 71.4 PPG, and shut down the offensive juggernaut that had been the Phoenix Mercury. Speaking of that Mercury-Lynx series: the Mercury were the best defensive team and the second best offensive team, and the Lynx held them ten and seven points under their playoff scoring average, and outscored the Mercury final defensive scoring numbers by two and seven points.
The rebounds are, once again, going to be an important variable in this contest. The Fever already grab a low number of boards; they compensate for this by shooting 47% from the field. The Lynx, on the other hand, grab 36 rebounds per contest, including 10.4 of the offensive variety. If the Lynx are their usual ferocious defensive and rebounding selves, the Fever are going to have to make really tough shots to win this series.
PART II: PLAYER COMPARISONS
Conventional wisdom is that talent (whatever that means) wins out in the end. I tend to agree with that statement, especially when it comes to basketball. The Lynx have the advantage in this department; they have a superstar, a star, and a bunch of really talented role players that fill the cracks like all good foundational mortar should (is that a real phrase? Foundational mortar?).
Tamika Catchings is one of the all-time greats, and is tearing people up in the playoffs, but she is really the only weapon that the Fever can deploy. She's a forward, which means her 36-year-old body is going to have to bang around with Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, or Rebekkah Brunson to grab rebounds and score in the paint.
That's not to say that she can't, of course; she is, still, Tamika Catchings, and doubting an all-time great is perilous, but if you are asking her to play her heart out on offense and defense, anchoring both, you might be asking too much.
Maya Moore is averaging 27 points per game in these playoffs; as I've said before, she's been a major factor for the Lynx making it this far. Combine her with Fowles defensive prowess and Brunson's rebounding skills, and you've got three players can take on any three in the league.
The second best player on the Lynx is Fowles; the second best player on the Fever is Shenise Johnson. That's not a shot at Johnson, by a long shot; she's a really solid, worthwhile WNBA player. But a top two of Catchings/Johnson versus a top two of Moore/Fowles, it's not really a contest. You can go up and down the roster this way. In both a sum of the parts and an individual standpoint, the Lynx are just better.
The Indiana Fever have played well to get here; better than I ever anticipated. Should they win, they would be a deserving champion, not a flukey one. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where the Fever beat the Lynx.
However, I just think that Fever are going to have a tough time scoring on the Lynx. They are an efficient team, yes; but they don't shoot that many three-pointers, and they don't shoot them all that well.
The Lynx have held better teams to much worse production, and in those moments when the offense is stagnating, and no one knows what to do, a superstar like Maya Moore can take the ball and make points appear on that scoreboard. That, more than anything else, really drives my prediction home.
Lynx in three.