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The 2021 WNBA season has been one of the best seasons in recent memory. With the addition of the Commissioners Cup, the off court moves and the extra media coverage, the upcoming WNBA playoffs have the potential to exceed the expectations. On Thursday night, the opening round of the playoffs will begin as the Phoenix Mercury hosts the New York Liberty.
Let’s take a closer look at this one game sudden death.
New York Liberty vs. Phoenix Mercury
The Liberty got into the playoffs after both Washington Mystics and the Los Angeles Sparks lost on the final day of the season. New York has struggled since the Olympic break only winning two of their 10 games played. The team has not looked the same offensively and haven’t been able to stop teams defensively.
The good news is that in the playoffs, records do not mean anything and in the opening round, the team that plays the best on that one night advances. So, for Liberty head coach, Walt Hopkins, it leaves him and his team with a fresh start. New York has some extremely good talent in All-Star Betnijah Laney, Rookie of the Year winner Michaela Onyenwere, Sabrina Ionescu and the former Seattle Storm duo of Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb.
Phoenix on the other hand has shown that when healthy, they have a championship makeup and roster. Led by Olympic gold medalists Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi, the Mercury came out of the Olympic break refreshed and motivated. They won their first 10 games and was right in the mix for a potential bye in the playoffs.
Another injury to Taurasi, stopped the momentum and the Mercury finished fifth in the standings. When she is on the court, Phoenix has been outstanding and when she hasn’t, the team has been up and down. Now that Taurasi has been upgraded to questionable, Phoenix could finally have their entire team healthy (Bria Hartley returned six games ago) and this could be a championship run out in the desert.
New York – Three Point Shooting
The Liberty not only shoot the three-pointer well, they lead the league in makes and attempts from long range. It’s not just one player that shoots them, it the entire team. With five players who hit at least one per game and seven players that take at least two of them per game, Phoenix will have to watch everything coming from beyond the arc. When they start to fall, the scoreboard begins to go up and when the Liberty score 85 points or more, they are 8-1 including a victory over Phoenix on June 13th.
Phoenix – Skylar Diggins-Smith
Everyone knows that Griner has played like an MVP all-season long and should be able to continue her dominate ways against the New York bigs, but it’s Diggins-Smith who holds the key to victory. When she is at her best, there are not many players who can dominate in multiple ways like Diggins-Smith can.
Even with Taurasi in or out of the lineup, Diggins-Smith will put a massive amount of pressure on the Liberty’s defense with her playmaking and shooting from long range. On top of that, her aggressiveness on that end allows her to get to the free throw line (6.2 attempts per game) and she frequently knocks them down (84.8 percent).
New York has an exciting young group of players but this matchup against the experienced Mercury is not the best one. Everyone knows about the three point shooting from New York but Phoenix knows how to defend it and is third in the league in three-point defense. Diggins-Smith and Griner should flourish in this game even if Taurasi is not available.
Phoenix wins 91-78