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WNBA Semifinals: Can well-rounded Aces advance to Finals over explosive Mercury?

The Las Vegas Aces and Phoenix Mercury meet in Game 5 of their semifinal series on Friday night.

Las Vegas Aces v Phoenix Mercury - Game Three
Can A’ja Wilson rise above Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi?
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Las Vegas Aces came into the season as the favorites to win the championship and on Friday they are in a position to advance to the WNBA Finals to meet the Chicago Sky. It hasn’t been a completely smooth ride for the Aces, especially not in the past week or so. They were swept by the Connecticut Sun in the regular season and finished second to the Sun in the standings. Then, they were blown out by 20-plus in two-straight games against the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals.

Those Mercury may appear to be the underdogs in Game 5 because they have lost momentum after a 17-point Game 4 loss and now have to go into “The House” (Michelob ULTRA Arena). But Phoenix should actually feel good about itself considering its amazing display of star power in Games 2 and 3. Everyone in the WNBA should now fear the trio of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith for however long they remain together because, when they were all hitting their shots against the Aces, they seemed like and unstoppable force.

Vegas has to be afraid entering Game 5 considering what happened in Games 2 and 3 when it seemed Phoenix could score at will. But that fear got the Aces to play disciplined in Game 4 and they went on a 24-0 run of their own en route to victory. Vegas has offensive firepower as well — it had the best scoring offense in the league by 5.5 points. It has the best assembly of stars in the league, hence the preseason favorite status. Yet, it seems that if Taurasi is hitting heavily contested threes from well beyond the arc and Griner is hitting from mid-range (where Vegas has to give her some space) and Diggins-Smith is getting to the foul line and making her free throws, that trio is even more explosive that the seven stars Vegas has. Now, it will take a perfect storm for Taurasi to be that ridiculous again, but if she is, Phoenix may have the edge.

On the other side of the Mercury's offensive spectrum, they struggled to find ways to score in the first round against the New York Liberty and needed a non-star in Sophie Cunningham to make open shots. A Game 5 Mercury victory will likely not be completed without some shots knocked down by Shey Peddy from beyond the arc and Kia Vaughn from mid-range. The bad news for Phoenix is that it could be just Peddy and Vaughn providing the extra offense because Kia Nurse is out with a knee injury and Cunningham is questionable with a left calf strain.

The Aces have to shut down Diana Taurasi and hope that she takes some shots despite being closely covered and misses them. The Aces also have to be careful not to foul Taurasi in those situations, but they were successful at that in Game 4, even drawing an offensive foul on Taurasi when she tried to initiate contact. If Taurasi doesn’t take crazy shots and instead passes to Griner, it will be on Griner to shoot a high percentage from the field, whether that be on inside shots or mid-range shots.

Game information

No. 6 seed Phoenix Mercury vs. No. 2 seed Las Vegas Aces

When: Friday, Oct. 8 at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas, NV

How to watch: ESPN2 or TSN4

Key to the matchup: Brittney Griner. I believe the Aces shouldn’t let Diana Taurasi beat them and I believe they will use that strategy. That would leave it up to Brittney Griner to finish inside on pick-and-rolls and hit her mid-range shots in order for Phoenix to win.

Mercury injury report: Sophie Cunningham (questionable; left calf strain), Kia Nurse (out; right knee)

Aces injury report: Angel McCoughtry (out for season; right knee)