Way, way back on September 24th, I predicted that Minnesota Lynx would beat the Phoenix Mercury in three games. Though my gut told me otherwise, I just couldn't empirically see a way that Phoenix could reasonably defeat the team that all the numbers said was the best in the WNBA. But, I was wrong; the Lynx didn't win in three.
In this article, we're going to take a look at two separate sections to try and get a sense of what went on during the series that lead to that 2-0 sweep. We're going to look at, in this order: team statistics and starters/bench statistics.
PART I: Team v. Team
- 69.5 PPG
- 41.1% FG
- 29.1% 3PT FG
- 40 RBDS PG
- 14.5 AST PG
- 76% FT
- 65.5 PPG
- 40.2% OFG
- 36.3% 3PT FG
- 28 RBDS PG
- 16 AST PG
- 82.4% FT
If you were to show me these two sets of numbers, sans points per game and rebounds, and asked me to pick who won the series, I would have chosen the Phoenix Mercury. They are better in essentially every measurable stat.
The Mercury had 2.5 fewer turnovers per game; they shot 17 free throws per game to the Lynx's 14, and shot 6% better on those free throws as well; hell, they even had better assist numbers.
However, those rebounds. Those rebounds are so ridiculously out of sorts with the rest of the numbers; how does a team with maybe the most dominant physical presence in the WNBA get out rebounded by 12? In the second, deciding contest, Phoenix failed to crack even 30 rebounds; in the first game, the Lynx grabbed 44 boards. It really was the deciding number, above all else, in these games.
The Mercury were only able to grab a total of 11 offensive rebounds in both games; no second chance points, at all. The Mercury had no wiggle room when it came to shooting the basketball, as they were never going to get any points off their first miss.
And yet, the Mercury were so close. That seven-point loss in the first game was closer than the score actually indicated, and the second game, of course, was decided on the thinnest edge of a single point. Maya Moore had to go totally nuts for the Lynx to end this as a clean sweep. Team-wise, this was a really, really close series.
PART II: The Players
I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that the best player in this series was Maya Moore. For the Lynx to win this series, Moore would have to be the superstar that she's always been, and she delivered.
She lead her team in scoring both games, and the 40 point domination of the second game was the only thing that kept the Mercury from pushing this to a third and deciding game; she was the only Lynx in double figures, scoring wise.
But it was much more than that, too. Rebekkah Brunson played the most minutes of any Lynx player in the first game, and also grabbed 19 rebounds, nearly half of the entire Lynx total.
Sylvia Fowles, one of the best center in the league, grabbed 14 boards herself. In the second game, where Brunson didn't quite have the same impact, Fowles was the only player in double digit rebounds. We talked about depth in the preview; the Mercury, for example, were much more apt to use the depth of their roster, whereas the Lynx were prone to using their starters more often.
Perhaps, I reasoned, this would be an advantage. However, they always say that rotations become tighter and the minutes harder to find when the playoffs start, and the Lynx's starters are better than the Mercury starters.
As for the Phoenix Mercury, they continued to use that depth, but it didn't really help much. They needed Brittney Griner to be otherworldly, and she wasn't. Her numbers are borderline bad: 12 points per game to go with six rebounds per game. In the first game, she didn't grab a single offensive rebound. Moore and Fowles and Brunson were so dominant that Griner could just never get going.
But it wasn't just her. Dupree and Bonner and the rest were better the second game, along with Griner, but they weren't as good as they needed to be to win this series. However, there is a positive in that; the Lynx, perhaps the favorites now to win it all regardless of who comes out of the Liberty/Fever match up, had to go nuts to stop a team that really didn't play up to their potential.
That's a good omen for next season, as the Mercury will have Griner for the whole year and another season of playing together; but now, the Mercury are going home, and as close as this series was, they have to be disappointed.