Among the many storylines swirling around the 2021 WNBA Finals — from underdogs to GOATs to hometown gals — is that this is a rematch of the 2014 WNBA Finals, when the Phoenix Mercury capped off arguably the greatest single-season in WNBA history with a 3-0 sweep of the Chicago Sky.
Only three members of the Mercury remain in Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and head coach Sandy Brondello. The Sky only have two holdovers in Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.
However, while both rosters have significantly changed, 2014 looks more similar to 2021 than might be expected.
What has changed since that championship series eight seasons ago? What has stayed the same?
A look back at the 2014 WNBA season
To set that stage, here’s a quick, big-picture overview of the 2014 WNBA season.
Maya Moore beat out Taurasi for the MVP award, scoring a league-leading 23.9 points per game as she led the Minnesota Lynx to a 25-9 record and a second-place finish in the Western Conference. Candace Parker, who is at the heart of the Sky’s 2021 playoff run and was then in the midst of her Los Angeles Sparks heyday, finished fourth, while Griner was fifth in the final tally.
Moore captained a 2014 All-WNBA First Team that otherwise featured a number of names who are starring in this 2021 Finals. Taurasi and Griner earned their tenth and first All-WNBA nods, respectively. Parker made All-WNBA for the fifth of nine times. Another player in the 2021 Finals — Skylar Diggins-Smith, then a second-year player with the Tulsa Shock — claimed the first of her four All-WNBA honors.
Griner also was named Defensive Player of the Year for the first time in her career, having led the league in defensive rating and blocks. This season, Griner once again was the WNBA’s block queen.
Similarly, Diggins-Smith was a foul-drawing savant in 2014 just as she was in 2021, as she led the league in free throws attempted both seasons. Although she missed half the season due to injury, Vandersloot, then in her fourth season, led the WNBA in assists per game for the first time in her career; in 2021, she was tops in assists for the sixth time. Quigley, then only in her second full WNBA season, served as the sixth woman for the Sky, the role in which she began the 2021 season.
In short, many of the names that defined the 2014 WNBA season are still doing their thing in 2021.
Similarities, differences with 2014 and 2021 versions of Mercury, Sky
As Swish Appeal’s Eric Nemchock documented, the 2014 Mercury had a magical season. Unlike in 2021, almost everything went right for Phoenix in 2014.
However, whether it is 2014 or 2021, Diana Taurasi is Diana Taurasi. In 2014, the GOAT kicked off the playoffs with a 34-point performance against Parker’s Sparks. That stood as her playoff career-high before this season’s 37-point explosion against the Las Vegas Aces. Despite the passage of eight seasons, her playoff points per game average has barely dropped off, going from 21.9 in 2014 to 19.3 in 2021.
Griner, in contrast, has shown significant growth since her second postseason experience. For the 2014 playoffs, she averaged 16.7 points and six rebounds per game. In 2021, when she frequently has looked like the best player in the world instead of a still-raw talent with the potential to be one of the best ever, her point total has jumped to 20.9 points per game, while she has grabbed 9.3 rebounds per game.
Despite more drastic roster differences, the Sky’s 2014 and 2021 seasons share more resemblances.
It was expected that the 2014 Sky, helmed by head coach Pokey Chatman, would be title-contenders led by Sylvia Fowles and Elena Delle Donne, two players who since have become synonymous with their second franchises. Yet, Fowles and Delle Donne experienced injuries and illnesses, as did Vandersloot. Epiphanny Prince, Tamera Young and Jessica Breland were among the key contributors for an up-and-down Sky team that finished the season 15-19 and fourth in the Eastern Conference. Sounds not unlike the 2021 Sky’s uneven regular season.
The 2014 Sky, like their 2021 counterparts, also began to peak to in the playoffs. After just sneaking into the postseason, Chicago upset the Atlanta Dream, the East’s No. 1 seed, in a thrilling three-game Eastern Conference semifinals. They then triumphed over the Indiana Fever in three games in the Eastern Conference finals. Unexpectedly, the Sky advanced to the Finals.
Over the course of Chicago’s 2014 playoff path, Vandersloot was a critical player. Yet, unlike in 2021, she did not raise her play in the postseason. In particular, Vandersloot struggled to put the ball in the basket in the 2014 playoffs, shooting 38.3 percent from the field and 13.3 percent from 3-point range. In 2021, she has asserted herself as a more aggressive scorer, scoring 13.7 points per game in the playoffs after averaging 10.5 points per game in the regular season. A pair of historic performances — only the second triple-double in WNBA history against the Connecticut Sun and an 11-assist and zero-turnover performance in Game 1 of the Finals — capture Vandersloot’s maturation into an unquestionably elite operator over the past eight seasons.
Quigely has held steady since 2014. She scored 14.2 points per game on 34.2 percent 3-point shooting during the Sky’s 2014 run to the Finals. This postseason, she is posting 14 points per game while shooting 35.3 percent from behind the arc. However, reflective of the sport-wide shift that has occurred since 2014, Quigley is attempting 7.3 threes per game in the 2021 postseason; in 2014, she only fired 4.2 treys per game in the playoffs.
Can the 2014 Finals predict the 2021 Finals?
Fortunately for the Sky, their first trip to the Finals since 2014 has gotten off to a much better start.
With the exception of the first quarter, Chicago dominated Game 1 of the 2021 Finals. In 2014, the Sky severely struggled in their Finals debut, losing 83-62 after falling behind by more than 30 points.
Currently down 0-1, Phoenix likely hopes tonight’s Game 2 parallels 2014’s Game 2. The Mercury cruised to a comfortable victory, 97-68, with all starters scoring in double figures. Griner was a game-best plus-28 while Taurasi shot 58.3 percent from the field and 60 percent from three, numbers that, if they could be replicated tonight, would be positive signs for the Mercury.
In the third and final game of the series, the Sky marshaled a more competitive effort, holding onto a 63-61 lead entering the fourth quarter. But, no one should be surprised by what happened in the final period —Taurasi went into GOAT-mode. She sunk five of her six shot attempts, including both of her 3-pointers, in order to take the Mercury to the 87-82 victory and a third WNBA championship.
In 2021, playing through a pair of injuries at age 39, can Taurasi once again tap into her well of greatness and unleash one more epic effort? Or, will Candace Parker look to turn back the clock to 2016? In the Sparks’ championship-clinching Game 5, Parker had a double-double of 28 points and 12 rebounds.
Alternatively, for all the resonances between 2014 and 2021, it would not be surprising if a fresh face swings this Finals. If Game 1, as well as the entire postseason, is any indication, Kahleah Copper’s influence will be all over these Finals. Brianna Turner also has shown that she can raise her play in the crucible of a postseason contest. Shey Peddy has proven her clutchness on multiple occasions. Diamond DeShields also has the potential to do something special.
For all that has stayed the same and for all that has changed, the 2021 Finals are a reminder of the greatness of the WNBA.