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The number one seed Seattle Storm will face the number five seed Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA playoff semi-finals. Unlike the first two rounds of the playoffs, the semi-finals won’t be one game. The Mercury and Storm will battle in a five game series that starts tonight at 5 p.m. est in Seattle.
Phoenix and Seattle have seen each other a lot this season. They have played each other five times if you include the two preseason games. The Storm won the season series 2-1 but the Mercury have made some adjustments to their line-up since those games were played and because of that this playoff series will play out differently. This will be a match-up of the trios as each team has three all stars.
The Storm ended the regular season with the best record in the WNBA at 26-8. Seattle played well on both ends of the floor throughout the regular season, ranking second in points scored per game with 87.2, and fifth in opponent points scored per game with 79.7. Seattle was led by their three all-stars, veteran point guard Sue Bird, perimeter scorer Jewell Lloyd and 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart. Stewart averaged 21.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 52% from the field. Lloyd averaged 15.5 points per game while shooting 37% from behind the three point line. Bird had another solid year averaging 10.1 points and 7.1 assists per game.
The Mercury are currently on a six game win streak, four to end the regular season and the two playoff games. Phoenix has played well behind the leadership of their three all stars Dewanna Bonner, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi. In the playoffs Bonner is averaging 26 points and 14.5 rebounds per game. Griner is averaging 22 points and 3.5 blocks per game, and Taurasi is averaging 26.5 points while 57.9% from the field.
In this series the key match-up will be at the power forward position as Dewanna Bonner will face off against Breanna Stewart. During the regular season when these two teams played against each other Bonner was playing small forward so she didn’t have the assignment of guarding Stewart on a consistent basis. Both of these players are the epitome of versatility as they can both knock down the three, take the ball of the dribble, rebound and defend at a high level. This match-up may be a wash but if one player is able to outplay the other it will sway the series in the favor of their team.
The X-Factor is this series will be Seattle Storm center Natasha Howard. Howard is 6’2″, which is not small except when you compare her to the 6’9″ Brittney Griner. If Griner is able to dominate this match-up, it will cause Seattle’s defense to crumble. The Storm will have to send strong doubles which will lead to open shots for Mercury shooters. The other option is to switch Stewart on to Griner, which can lead to the Storm’s best player getting in foul trouble. Howard has to at least contain Griner in one on one situations or the Mercury will feast on the offensive end.
This will be an all-time great series where all five games will be needed. The leadership, experience, and scoring ability of Phoenix’s “Big 3” will be the difference as the Mercury win this series 3-2.