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Film Study: Breaking Down Key Matchups in the WNBA Semifinals

While the best team from top to bottom will likely win the WNBA championship, controlling certain key matchups is a surefire way to the trophy. Talent abounds on the four teams left in the semifinals, and how certain players face off with their counterparts across the floor will go a long way in determining who advances.

The semifinals are a best-of-five series, meaning that these matchups will play out over the course of a minimum of three games. Adjustments will be made, talents will be tested, and the stakes will get higher with every game.

Mercury vs. Lynx 

Diana Taurasi vs. Maya Moore

No need to look much further than these two when it comes to deciding the outcome of this series. Superstars of the highest order, DT and Maya are two of the best to ever grace the WNBA hardwood. In addition to sharing league MVP awards, championship trophies, Olympic gold medals and a bevy of All-Star appearances, they are two of the most versatile scorers the league has ever seen.

Maya’s 19.3 points per game were the fifth-highest mark in the W this year, while Taurasi wasn’t far behind with 17.8 points per game of her own. Both have worked to round at their games as their careers have progressed.

Moore has become as lethal as Taurasi from behind the arc. Here 40.4% 3-point shooting percentage during the regular season was the sixth highest mark in the league. She can hit treys from deep either one-on-one:

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… or with a screen:

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Over the course of her storied 12-year career Taurasi has excelled at using the threat of the long-ball to help her effective midrange game. Taurasi’s career 49.6% shooting from 2-point range are a testament to her ability to hit a wide range of makeable shots around the rim.

This season has been no different: DT has done it all, including acrobatic finishes through traffic:

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She also still has a quick first step and the ability to finish in the paint:

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This matchup is a heavyweight prize fight masquerading as WNBA semifinal game. Moore and Taurasi are going to score and do it every way imaginable. If either gets hot, there is no containing them and in turn their squad. Taurasi is coming off another ridiculous elimination game performance in dropping 30 against the Liberty, while Moore is well-rested and waiting to match her shot for shot.

Brittney Griner vs. Sylvia Fowles

The paint in the Mercury-Lynx showdown is going to be oozing with talent as Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles, two of the league’s preeminent bigs, will be jockeying for position all series long. This is a classic matchup of defensive prowess against potent offense.

Griner’s length alone would make her a formidable presence in the paint. Her knack for blocking almost any shot that comes within her wingspan make her one of the best the league has ever seen. Once again she led the W with 3.1 blocks per game in the regular season and her 422 career swats already place her in the top 10 in league history.

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Griner’s ability to affect shots may have met its match in the multi-faceted offensive arsenal from Fowles, though. Fowles is cut from the same cloth as perhaps the league’s most famous big, Lisa Leslie. Similar to Leslie, Fowles has an array of post moves that make her almost unguardable close to the rim. Her 59.5% shooting from the field was the fourth highest in the league in 2016.

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She frequently utilizes an effective drop-step spin move that immediately gets her defender off balance:

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While Taurasi and Moore will rarely be tasked with guarding each other, Fowles vs. Griner represents one of the more intriguing individual matchups the league has to offer.

Sky vs. Sparks

Courtney Vandersloot vs. Kristi Toliver

When Elena Delle Donne underwent surgery for a thumb injury just two weeks prior to the Sky’s playoff run beginning, many had Chicago tabbed for an early exit.

Courtney Vandersloot had other ideas. She had her best game of the season when it mattered most, silencing the doubters in the team’s second round win over Atlanta. She finished with 21 points and 13 assists. Vandersloot did it all against the Dream, reassuring the team’s added weight on her to shoulder more of the offensive load. She was able to create her own shot:

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Vandersloot was also keen on running the Sky’s offense as she found her teammates time and time again for clean looks at the basket:

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She’ll be facing a different level of talent on Wednesday as Kristi Toliver is a pure, knockdown shooter from behind the arc. Tolliver shot the fourth highest percentage from deep in 2016 — 42.4% — and hit four or more treys in an impressive eight games this past season.

Toliver can get her shot in a variety of ways. She can come of screens effectively:

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Or, if need be, craft her own shot:

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These two have emerged as X-factors for their teams despite not being the biggest names on their respective rosters. With Toliver’s remarkable shooting touch going up against an inspired and scrappy Vandersloot, this matchup has a lot to offer.

Cappie Pondexter vs. Alana Beard

After EDD, Cappie Pondexter is the next, best scoring threat for Chicago. A one-woman wrecking ball, Pondexter has been selected to seven All-Star Games because of her rugged style of play and at no time does that style of play flourish more than in the playoffs.

Her 12.9 points per game were the second most on the Sky in 2016, and many came in the form of attacking the rim:

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L.A.’s Alana Beard will be tasked with trying to slow down Pondexter. At 34 years old and with four WNBA All-Star appearances to her name, Beard’s been here before and hasn’t lost a step — her 1.7 steals per game ranked second in the WNBA this season.

She’s the definition of a pest on D:

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She’s also excellent at remaining with her offensive counterpart, and rarely losing in one-on-one situations on the floor:

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Overall, both semifinal matchups have star power, both boast gritty lineups that aren’t afraid to do the little things, and both have quality matchups that will push each other to be great.