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Semifinal Series Preview: (1) Minnesota Lynx vs. (6) Washington Mystics

The Minnesota Lynx and Washington Mystics are each three wins away from a trip to the WNBA Finals. For the Lynx, it would be their sixth trip to the Finals in seven years as they try to capture their third WNBA title since 2011. For the Mystics, who are making their first semifinal appearance in 15 years, it would be their first time in the championship round.

 

Series Schedule

Game 1: Tuesday, Sept. 12 —  Washington @ Minnesota, 8 PM ET (ESPN2)

Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 14 — Washington @ Minnesota, 8 PM ET (ESPN2)

Game 3: Sunday, Sept. 17 — Minnesota @ Washington, 3 PM ET (ESPN)

Game 4*: Tuesday, Sept. 19 — Minnesota @ Washington, TBD (ESPN2)

Game 5*: Thursday, Sept. 21 — Washington @ Minnesota, TBD (ESPN2)

While the Lynx have been off since Sept. 3 after earning the double-bye to the semifinals by virtue of finishing the regular season as the No. 1 seed, the Mystics had to earn their spot by winning a pair of single-elimination rounds over the past week. After knocking off the Dallas Wings in the opening round, the Mystics rallied past the New York Liberty on the road to set up this matchup with Minnesota.

This is the first time the Mystics have won multiple games in a single playoffs since 2002, which is also the last time they had a shot at making the WNBA Finals.

 

Playoff History (not including current playoff run)

Washington: 9 Playoff appearances, 0 Finals appearances, 0 championships, 1 series win, 6-18 (.250) overall record

Minnesota: 8 Playoff appearances, 5 Finals appearances, 3 championships, 13 series wins, 35-17 (.673) overall record

In addition to holding an enormous edge in playoff experience and success, the Lynx also dominated the three-game season series with the Mystics this season. Minnesota won all three games by 14 points or more with an average margin of victory of 18.7 points.

It must be noted that the first two games of the series took place in June and featured a Mystics lineup that included Tayler Hill, but was without Emma Meesseman. Only their final matchup – which took place on the final day of the regular season – included the Mystics lineup that will come to Minnesota on Tuesday with Meesseman back and Hill out for the season.

Meanwhile, the Lynx had their full arsenal of players for the first two meetings but were without point guard Lindsay Whalen in the regular season finale as she was out with a broken hand. Whalen has returned to practice, but her status for the semifinals remains unknown. What is known is that the Lynx went 20-2 with Whalen in the lineup and just 7-5 since she was sidelined.

 

Season Series

6/9/17 at Washington

  • Minnesota Lynx 98, Washington Mystics 73
  • Lynx Leaders: Moore: 17 pts, 6 ast, 6-8 FG, 3-3 3P; Brunson: 17 pts, 6 reb, 6-12 FG; Fowles: 21 pts, 11 reb, 5 ast, 10-15 FG; Augustus: 14 pts, 3 ast, 6-6 FG, 2-2 3P; Whalen: 2 pts, 6 ast, becomes WNBA’s all-time wins leader
  • Mystics Leaders: Hill: 20 pts, 7-13 FG; Latta: 15 pts, 5-7 FG; Delle Donne/Meesseman: DNP

6/23/17 at Minnesota

  • Minnesota Lynx 93, Washington Mystics 76
  • Lynx Leaders: Moore: 22 pts, 11 reb, 7 ast, 2 stl, 2 blk, 7-20 FG; Fowles: 21 pts, 15 reb, 5 blk, 8-10 FG; Whalen: 12 pts, 5 ast, 4-5 FG
  • Mystics Leaders: Hill: 21 pts, 8-22 FG; Delle Donne: 17 pts, 8 reb, 5-12 FG; Toliver: 14 pts, 5-10 FG, 3-7 3P

9/3/17 at Minnesota

  • Minnesota Lynx 86, Washington Mystics 72
  • Lynx Leaders: Moore 26 pts, 3 stl, 10-19 FG, 3-6 3P; Montgomery: 18 pts, 3 ast, 6-11 FG, 3-7 3P; Fowles: 5 reb, 8 reb, 5 ast; Whalen: DNP (hand)
  • Mystics Leaders: Toliver: 20 pts, 3 ast, 8-16 FG; Delle Donne: 12 pts, 5-7 FG, 18 min

 

Star Power

This matchup features a pair of MVP winners – Maya Moore in 2014 and Elena Delle Donne in 2015 – as well as the frontrunner for this year’s honor in Sylvia Fowles. Add Whalen and Seimone Augustus to that trio and there are five of the 12 members of last year’s gold medal winning U.S. Olympic team.

 

Matchups To Watch

 

Maya Moore vs. Elena Delle Donne

It’s tough to name a more marquee matchup in all the WNBA than Maya Moore versus Elena Delle Donne. The two former MVPs are both top 10 scorers – Delle Donne 4th at 19.7 ppg, Moore 10th at 17.3 ppg – but their impact goes well beyond the points column. Both not only stuff the stat sheet every night – Moore is second in steals and 15th in assists; Delle Donne is ninth in blocks and 15th in rebounds – they also take over in clutch situations.

During the regular season series, Moore averaged 21.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.3 steals and a block per game while shooting 48.9 percent (23-47) from the field, 53.8 percent (7-13) from beyond the arc and a perfect 100 percent (12-12) from the foul line. Those numbers are up across the board from her already outstanding season averages.

Stat                 Season           vs. Mystics

Points             17.3                 21.6

Rebounds       5.0                   5.3

Assists            3.5                   5.0

Steals              1.8                   2.3

Blocks             0.4                   1.0

Field Goal%   45.8                 48.9

3-Point%        38.7                 53.8

Free Throw% 86.3                 100

Delle Donne only had limited time against the Lynx this season – she missed the first game with a groin injury and played only 18 minutes in the regular-season finale. But since she’s returned from her thumb injury that sidelined her for most of August, Delle Donne has been fantastic. She closed the regular season by scoring 24 points or more in three of her final four games and has averaged a double-double – 21.5 points and 10.5 rebounds – through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Sylvia Fowles vs. Emma Meesseman/Krystal Thomas

Fowles has been a force to be reckoned with all season long. She has established herself as the frontrunner for the Most Valuable Player award after averaging 18.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while shooting a career-best 65.5 percent from the field. Her scoring and rebounding averages are the highest they have been since she arrived in Minnesota as she has become more a focal point offensively for the veteran squad.

While Thomas will be the first line of defense against Fowles, look for the Mystics to mix up their defense and send double teams to try to slow down the league’s fifth-leading scorer. On the defensive end, Meesseman and the other Mystics can try to pull Fowles away from the basket by stepping out and knocking down mid-range to long-range jumpers.

Kristi Toliver vs. Lindsay Whalen/Renee Montgomery

Toliver picked a perfect time to break out of a shooting slump as she splashed a WNBA record nine 3-pointers as she scored a playoff career-high 32 points to lead the Mystics past the Liberty in the second round. It’s this time of year that Mystics coach Mike Thibault wanted Toliver for; she’s a veteran point guard that isn’t afraid to take big shots in big moments whether it be in the NCAA title game, the WNBA Finals or in a second-round matchup on the road after being down by double-digits.

Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into this series is the status of Whalen. The WNBA’s all-time leader in career wins is a vital piece to Minnesota’s success. The team struggled to find its way after she went down with a broken bone in her left hand. Will she be able to play? If so, how effective will she be? If she’s unable to go, the Lynx will insert backup Renee Montgomery into the starting lineup and task her with running the offense and keeping Toliver in check.