The numbers do not favor the Phoenix Mercury in this matchup. They’ve been impressive, winning two elimination games to make it this far, but their up against a very, very strong team in the Minnesota Lynx, as I’ve detailed below.
Ultimately, this will come down to the players and the execution of their respective game plans (a wise insight from me, Basketball WiseMan), but I think that if both teams executed at the highest level possible, Minnesota would win every game.
The Lynx are the clear favorites in this matchup. They’ve tallied some of the most impressive statistics I’ve seen, both traditional and advanced; for example, the Lynx rebound 30% of their misses, putting them just behind the Atlanta Dream for tops in the league.
One of the fundamental weaknesses in this Phoenix Mercury team is their defensive rebounding; opponents grab a little over 27% of their bricks, sixth in the league and less than two percentage points from the top of the list.
That may not sound impressive on its face, but when combined with potent offensive rebounding, it can be deadly. They also have the best defensive rating in the league, at 96.4, essentially one point less than the second-place Los Angeles Sparks (after that, the drop off is two, to the New York Liberty).
The Mercury, in contrast, boast only one statistic that really pops, and that is their offensive rating. The sit in fourth place, behind Minnesota, Chicago Sky, and Los Angeles Sparks, at 105. They have been lighting up the scoreboard all year, sitting in third behind the Lynx and Sky in points per game at 84.6.
But, have you picked up a pattern here? Even in the areas in which their competence is most apparent, they lag behind Minnesota. Their defensive numbers paint an even less pretty picture, with the fourth-worst defensive rating in the league, and the fifth most points given up per game.
Here, though, is the wildcard: the Mercury have two of the best players in the league. Brittney Griner has had a down year, having been unable to be the anchor point for the defense, and generally looking a step slow, but she’s still a two-time defensive player of the year. Diana Taurasi, back after a year off, has been tremendous.
Minnesota has Maya Moore, who is better than both Taurasi and Griner, but I’m not comfortable saying that Sylvia Fowles is better than Griner, or that Seimone Augustus is better than DeWanna Bonner. The team with the best player wins the series more often than not, but when you pair player for player, star for star, the Mercury stack up well.
I don’t, ultimately, believe that Phoenix will win this series. Griner needs to become Griner again; that full-throated black hole force of fucking nature that could lock down a building just by stretching the 7’4” wingspan. They need Taurasi to be as good as she’s been and better, hitting shots from the parking lot and when she goes to bed at night.
They have the talent, and the experience, and the courage to do so, of that there is no doubt. However, they’ll have to do it in the face of a motivated Maya Moore, and against a top-flight interior defender in Sylvia Fowles. I could see this series going the full five, back and forth, and back and forth, and I could also see the Lynx running away with it.
So, I’ll compromise:
LYNX IN FOUR