Under the new playoff structure (new being a relative term), the top two seeds get first and second round byes, sending them all the way to the Semifinals. It’s an interesting bit of work, especially considering that it solves two problems: one, how to stop inferior teams from getting preferred seeding simply because of their conference (say, if Team A was to win the West with a worse record than Team B, who came in third in the East), and two, how to make the regular season matter more. Hard to take a game off when you know that the difference between the second and third seed is a long rest and a weary opponent.
It’s happening again, for the second year in a row. The Sparks and the Lynx are in the Semifinals again, preparing to take on whatever opponent comes their way. This is only the second season in a row that both this playoff structure and these two teams have a chance to meet in the Finals. But it speaks to stacked teams staying stacked. The Sparks have both Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, and the Lynx have Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles, plus much more great players on both sides.
They are, by any statistical measure, the best two teams in the WNBA. Choose your statistic (advanced only, we’re not monsters, and also, I’m trying to watch MiB, and I’m not in the mood to deal with regular statistics), and you’ll find that these two are almost always at the top of the heap.
People love it when things come in threes; it feels like the beginning, middle, and end, all segmented and easily understandable. This is the middle of the story; the (maybe) second part of what’s to come. Will the Lynx, a team that has long ruled the WNBA, both in championships and statistics, rebound from their defeat at the hands of the Sparks? Will the Sparks, the statistical, nominal underdogs (though it’s more of a seesaw in quality between the two than a gap) firmly establish their dominance over the Lynx?
It reminds me of the Cavaliers and the Warriors, though the gap in talent is larger. The first series established the power of the Warriors, but also their weaknesses; namely, they didn’t have LeBron James. The second series, a Cavalier championship victory, exploited that weakness. The third series was about the Warriors breaking the norms to win again, and handily, by acquiring Kevin Durant. This series could, and should, go on past 2017.
There are other teams in these playoffs; the 5 seed Phoenix Mercury take on the 4 seed Connecticut Sun, and the 6 seed Washington Mystics take on the 3 seed New York Liberty. Three of these four teams are pretty status-quo type teams; meaning, nobody's surprised that teams with Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi, Elena Delle Donne, and Tina Charles are in the second round of the playoffs.
The fourth team, the Connecticut Sun, is a bit of a wrench in the works in that regard; I note that discrepancy because I think that it’s interesting that they have the best chance of being the spoiler between the Lynx and Sparks matchup.
They have the fourth best defensive rating and the third best offensive rating. They play at the fastest pace in the league, possessions-wise; they average 86.1 a game, faster than the nearest competitor by nearly five possessions. But they also allow the third-fewest possessions per game, at 77.4. Usually, teams don’t have that large of a discrepancy in possessions.
I can’t say for certain what that means, but it reads to me like they are able to both run, and stymie a defense on the other end; not just in the sense of defending the ball, but really making them extend possessions. That, and they take little time on their own possessions. I don’t really have enough data to say either way, but I think it speaks well of them.
But –– I’m not picking the Sun to win. They, over a longer series, probably beat Phoenix. But because this is a single-game elimination tournament, I’m going with the Mercury. Why? Because the Mercury have Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, and Connecticut doesn’t.
This same logic applies to the New York/Washington matchup. The New York Liberty is a better team, but in terms of generational, franchise talent, I think that Elena Delle Donne outstrips Tina Charles, and though Emma Meesseman is better than anyone else they have on the Liberty. Single elimination is volatile and crunchy, and better teams can easily lose it. Have a bad weekend, lost to a worse team. Happens in baseball all the time.
That’s it. This was supposed to be a Twin Peaks article type thing but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Watch the WNBA, and watch Twin Peaks. It has haunted me for the last 19 weeks, and it should haunt other people. I think we should haunt other people. Anyway. The WNBA is dope and we should be proud to be a country that hosts not only one incredible basketball league, but two.