What's At Stake: Western Conference Finals
Let me be the first person to sign the petition to make this Phoenix Mercury-Minnesota Lynx matchup in the Western Conference Finals a seven-game series. Three games does not seem like enough for this highly-anticipated matchup. The defending champs from Minnesota against the season-long juggernaut from Phoenix. Friday night can’t get here soon enough.
As we wait for this series to tip off, here are five reasons why this matchup means so much.
The winner of the Western Conference Finals will be the overwhelming favorite in a WNBA Finals matchup against either the Indiana Fever or Chicago Sky. The Mercury (29-5) and Lynx (25-9) combined for a 54-14 (.794) record this season. Their Eastern Conference counterparts went a combined 34-34 (.500). The Mercury and Lynx are a combined 8-0 against Chicago and Indiana this season.
As Ben York noted in his By The Numbers breakdown of this matchup for PhoenixMercury.com, the 14 combined losses by the Mercury and Lynx are fewer than every other team in the WNBA this season. Atlanta (19-15) was the only other team to finish above .500 this season and they just got eliminated thanks to an incredible fourth-quarter performance from Chicago’s’ Elena Della Donne.
The Phoenix Mercury set a WNBA record with 29 regular season wins this year, eclipsing the previous mark of 28 by the Seattle Storm (2010) and the Los Angeles Sparks (2000 and 2001). The Mercury also became just the seventh team in the history of the league to finish the regular season with a win percentage over .800.
Highest Winning Percentage, Season
|.900||27-3||Houston||1998||Won WNBA Finals|
|.875||28-4||Los Angeles||2000||Lost WNBA Finals|
|.875||28-4||Los Angeles||2001||Won WNBA Finals|
|.844||27-5||Houston||2000||Won WNBA Finals|
|.824||28-6||Seattle||2010||Won WNBA Finals|
|.813||26-6||Houston||1999||Won WNBA Finals|
So, this Phoenix squad has a chance to join the conversation of the greatest WNBA teams of all time. But before it can enter that rare air, it needs to get through the Lynx and go on to win the WNBA title. Right now they are holding a cup to their ear and pressing it against the door trying to eavesdrop on the conversation. A championship will be their key to entry.
Only one team that won over 80 percent of its regular season games did not go on to win the title -- the 2000 Los Angeles Sparks (28-4, .875), who happened to lose in the Western Conference Finals to the Houston Comets (27-5, .824). It was the only season in WNBA history to feature two teams with win percentages over .800.
This year, the Lynx and Mercury are the only two teams to win even 60 percent of their games, as they have been head and shoulders above the rest of the field all season long. Like in 2000, the two best teams from the regular season reside in the same conference, so this matchup must take place prior to the WNBA Finals.
One side note: all seven teams that have recorded winning percentages over .800 for a season hailed from the Western Conference.
The Mercury isn’t the only team trying to cement its place among the greatest teams of all time. The Minnesota Lynx have a chance to become only the second team in WNBA history to appear in four straight WNBA Finals. The only team to do so was the Houston Comets, who had a magical run in the first four seasons of the WNBA’s existence, winning the first four championships in league history.
The Comets had the first dynasty in the WNBA. But there have been other teams that have put together some impressive runs. Three of Houston’s four titles came against the New York Liberty, who appeared in four WNBA Finals in the league’s first six seasons, but have yet to win a title.
The Comets’ run was finally ended in 2001 by Lisa Leslie and the Los Angeles Sparks, who would go on to win titles in both 2001 and 2002 and represent the West in the Finals again in 2003.
The Sparks’ attempt at a three-peat was thwarted by Bill Laimbeer and the Detroit Shock, who became the first team in American pro sports to go from posting the worst record in the league (9-23 in 2002) to winning the championship the following season.
After ceding the East to the Connecticut Sun for two seasons, the Shock reclaimed their place in the WNBA Finals with three straight appearances and two more titles from 2006 to 2008.
The most recent repeat runs to the Finals came from the Atlanta Dream (2010, 2011 and 2013) and the Lynx, who have appeared in three straight Finals and won championships in 2011 and 2013. If they make it to a fourth straight WNBA Finals, they would join the Comets in the history books. Not bad company to join.
Most Consecutive WNBA Finals Appearances
|3||Los Angeles Sparks||2001-2003||2|
|2||New York Liberty||1999-2000||0|
The Conference Finals matchup between the Mercury and Lynx features half of this year’s Western Conference All-Star team – with Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen representing the Lynx and Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Candice Dupree representing the Mercury.
As coach of the defending Western Conference champion, Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve coached the West All-Stars, while Phoenix’s Sandy Brondello went on to win Coach of the Year honors.
And speaking of awards, this matchup features this season’s scoring champ and MVP (Moore), Defensive Player of the Year (Griner) and the Peak Performer for assists (Taurasi). Oh, and Taurasi is also a former MVP and five-time scoring champ.
Speaking of scoring, these are the two highest scoring teams in the league with the Mercury leading the way at 83.5 points per game and the Lynx just behind at 81.6.
The Mercury do have the higher rated defense, thanks in large part to Griner’s league-best 3.8 blocks per game, surrendering just 74.1 points per game (second best in the WNBA). Meanwhile the Lynx are in the middle of the pack at 77.2 points allowed per game.
The Mercury and Lynx are meeting in the Western Conference Finals for the third time in the past four years. Both in 2011 and 2013, the Lynx swept the Mercury to advance to the WNBA Finals and win the championship. In both of those seasons, the Lynx finished with the best record in the WNBA and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
This year, the Mercury finished atop the league and is looking to avenge those past defeats to the Lynx and advance to their fourth WNBA Finals in team history. After dropping the 1998 Finals to the Comets, the Mercury won the title in each of their last two appearances in 2007 and 2009.
Both teams feature young stars (Moore and Griner) mixed in with outstanding veterans that still have plenty left in the tank. With an epic series on the horizon this year and both teams in position for long-term success, this is a rivalry that should treat WNBA fans for years to come.
Can we please make this a seven-game series?