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Analysis: How the Mercury and Sparks won their first-round playoff games

Hot shooters in Phoenix and a fierce backcourt in LA ended the seasons of the Dallas Wings and the Minnesota Lynx, respectively.

DeWanna Bonner (L) of the Phoenix Mercury led all scorers on the first night of the 2018 WNBA Playoffs, while the league’s leading scorer, Diana Taurasi (R), added a double-double to the Mercury’s winning efforts.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The Mercury blew out the Wings, 101-83, while the Sparks ground out a 75-68 win over the Lynx on Tuesday night. Let’s get to some of the takeaways from each game.

Takeaways from the Mercury’s win over the Wings

#1. The Mercury’s hot third-quarter shooting was the key to the win.

The Mercury and Wings actually had a rather even game for most of Tuesday night quarter-by-quarter. However, the third quarter was when Phoenix was able to blow the game open and turn a 53-49 lead into a commanding 79-64 advantage heading into the final period. In fact, Phoenix was leading by as many as 20 points at one point during the fourth quarter.

The Mercury played their starting lineup the entire third quarter and shot 6-of-11 from deep with shots like these:

Meanwhile, the Wings were tentative, shooting only 1-of-6 from three and not attempting a single free throw.

#2. Diana Taurasi is an all-around playmaker, but a shooter first.

Taurasi scored 26 points (including six three-pointers) and dished 12 assists. Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, will always be known as a scorer first. But she’s a heck of a passer, too.

Ultimately, Taurasi is the first WNBA player to score 20 points, dish 10 assists and 5 five or more threes in the same game. And she is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.

#3. DeWanna Bonner’s big numbers helped Phoenix to the second round.

In addition to Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner came up big on offense. But Bonner, not Taurasi, was led the way with a game-high 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Bonner, a year after giving birth to twin daughters, scored 8 of those points during the Mercury’s third-quarter run.

In the loss for the Wings, Skylar Diggins-Smith scored 23 points and Liz Cambage added 22 on a combined 16-of-35 shooting. But the timing and efficiency of their scoring did not work out Dallas’ favor, as Diggins-Smith shot just 1-of-4 during Phoenix’s hot third-quarter run, right when Dallas needed her the most.

Takeaways from the Sparks’ win over the Lynx

#1. This game was close but LA had a clear advantage for most of the game.

There were eight lead changes and the game seesawed from an 11-point Lynx lead in the second quarter to a 14-point Sparks lead at one point in the third.

Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray scored 23 combined points to lead LA’s early surge.

#2. LA’s backcourt is a force to be reckoned with.

Not too long ago, the Lynx’s strongest positional area was the backcourt, when Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen were in their prime. Now, that position is Minnesota’s weakness. Augustus and Whalen combined for 14 points Tuesday night, while LA’s Chelsea Gray led all scorers with 26 points while teammate Riquna Williams added 17 more.

The Sparks are mostly known for their frontcourt duo of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. But if Gray and Williams can put up another performance like this on Thursday against the Mystics, there’s no reason why they cannot reach the Finals for the third consecutive year.

#3. Lindsay Whalen gave a solid farewell performance.

The future Hall of Famer played her final game Tuesday night, scoring 9 points and dishing 5 assists. Though Minnesota lost and didn’t have control of the game in the second half, Whalen still stepped up when she could, including this three-pointer in the fourth quarter that closed the Sparks’ lead to three points.

After the game was over, the Sparks showed respect to Whalen, even though she had played for their arch-rival Lynx.