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Analysis: Doubleheader delivered, as Mystics handled Sparks, Mercury blocked out Sun in second-round playoff action

Thursday’s WNBA Playoffs’ games featured tales of a legacy in the making and a legacy cemented.

Diana Taurasi explains how the winning happens following the Phoenix Mercury’s defeat of the Connecticut Sun in a second-round single-elimination playoff game to get to the semifinals.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Thursday’s single-elimination games were all about legacies. On one side of the bracket, it’s a legacy still being forged, with Elena Delle Donne looking to prove she can turn the Washington Mystics’ successful regular season into playoff wins. On the other side, meanwhile, is Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury continuing to cement her legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Here’s how each team advanced to the semifinals.

The Mercury dimmed the Sun with a deceptive 96-86 final score

Don’t let the final score fool you. This was a back-and-forth affair that showcased not only what makes the WNBA great but what makes basketball great. In a single-game playoff round, these women put everything on the line and the crowd was behind it 1,000 percent.

The Sun were looking to avenge their loss to the Mercury last postseason and it looked like Courtney Williams would not be denied. With 4:19 left in the fourth quarter, Williams converted a four-point play that looked to swing the momentum the Sun’s way.

Stephanie Talbot, who committed the foul on William’s three-point shot that sent her to the line, air-balled an ill-advised three-point attempt on the next Mercury possession which resulted in another Courtney Williams’ bucket for the Sun, giving the Sun an 84-81 advantage with 3:55 in the game.

The Mercury called a timeout, and what happened next changed the game: The Mercury ran an ATO play for Talbot (who had been struggling) and she drilled the three to tie the game back up. From there, it was time for the stars to take over. The Sun played hard but were simply out-matched in the final two minutes and couldn’t keep up with the Mercury’s star power.

The Mercury’s Big Three of DeWanna Bonner (23 points), Brittney Griner (27 points) and Taurasi (27 points) combined to score to 77 points, which is the most combined by a trio in playoff history. The star power for the Mercury was the difference late. The Sun’s lack of a closer and scoring-by-committee approach is fine for the regular season, but in the playoffs it is about stars and the Mercury had the edge in that department which is why they advanced to play the Seattle Storm in the semifinals.

The Mystics buried the Sparks in a 96-64 beatdown no one expected

Elena Delle Donne has all the accolades: MVP, scoring titles, All-WNBA teams. But the one thing that alludes her is a championship. Having been swept by the Minnesota Lynx last season, Delle Donne will be judged under a microscope this postseason. With expectations sky high entering the playoffs, she and the Mystics made a statement.

LA was clearly hampered by the scheduling situation that forced them into long, back-and-forth cross country travel with just one day in between from their last game against the Lynx. LA looked like a team with tired legs and the Mystics capitalized by running the Sparks into the ground.

Candace Parker was the only player for the Sparks to crack double digits in scoring as the Mystics’ defense stifled the Sparks, allowing Washington to run free in transition. The game was over by halftime when the Mystics went into the break with a commanding 50-29 lead.

The switch just never flipped for the Sparks and the Mystics, led by Delle Donne who scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds would not let up. By the end of the third quarter, the score was even more lopsided, with Washington leading 75-46.

The only drama left for the fourth quarter was, “How many points are they going to win by?”

The Mystics made a monumental statement against the Sparks and, due to the blowout, will now be well-rested and energized for their clash against the Atlanta Dream on Sunday.

As for the Sparks, it will be an interesting offseason as they look for avenues to remain contenders in a league that has caught up to them. Both champions from the last three years have been eliminated and it’s time for a new legacy to be cemented.