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Round 2 Playoff Preview: (3) New York Liberty vs. (8) Phoenix Mercury

The No. 8 seed Phoenix Mercury defeated the No. 5 seed Indiana Fever, 89-78, on Wednesday in a single-elimination first-round playoff game. Next up? A showdown with the No. 3 seed New York Liberty on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV.

Setting the Stage

As the No. 3 seed, the Liberty earned a first-round bye and the right to host the lowest seed that advances out of the first round.

Although the Mercury were the final team to clinch a playoff berth, they are a dangerous team loaded with talent that makes this not your typical No. 3 vs. No. 8 matchup. In their win over Indiana, the Mercury had a balance attack with Diana Taurasi leading five players in double-figures with 20 points. Brittney Griner added 18 points and nine rebounds and DeWanna Bonner had 18 off the bench, including 11 in the fourth quarter when the Mercury pulled away.

Meanwhile, the Liberty closed the regular season on a three-game losing streak and went just 3-5 following the Olympic break. New York will have had over a week off to prepare for this win-or-go-home game, which will be played at Madison Square Garden, where the Liberty went 10-7 this season.

Regular Season Series

While New York won the regular season series against Phoenix, 2-1, the teams split their two games at Madison Square Garden. The Mercury went just 5-12 on the road in the regular season, but were able to go into Indianapolis and defeat the Fever in the first round.

New York has the most recent win between the two teams — a 92-70 victory in New York on Sept. 3. In three games against the Mercury this season, the Liberty averaged 96.0 points, well above their eighth-ranked 81.7 points per game average. The Mercury averaged 87.3 points against the Liberty this season, which is nearly three points better than their third-ranked 84.6 average on the season.

These two teams have met just one previous time in the playoffs — back in the league’s inaugural season. In a single-elimination semifinals, the Liberty defeated the Mercury, 59-41, to advance to the first championship game. It’s safe to assume this year’s game will be much more high scoring than the one back in 1997.

Matchup to Watch: Tina Charles vs. Brittney Griner

Keep your eyes on the battle in the paint between New York’s Tina Charles and Phoenix’s Brittney Griner. The Olympic teammates for Team USA are two of the most dynamic post presences in the WNBA and affect the game on both ends of the floor.

Charles is a leading MVP candidate after becoming just the third player in WNBA history to lead the league in both scoring (21.5 ppg) and rebounding (9.9) in the same season, joining Chamique Holdsclaw and Lauren Jackson.

Few players are asked to do more for their team than Charles, who has the second-highest usage rate in the league (30.7%), as she uses nearly a third of all Liberty possessions while she is on the court. Griner is part of a more balanced attack, using only 21.6% of Phoenix’s possessions, second on the Mercury to Taurasi’s 28.1%.

While Griner has won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in each of the past two seasons, she has not been able to slow Charles this season. The Liberty center has averaged 26.6 points and 11.0 rebounds in three games against Phoenix this season. Meanwhile, Griner has averaged just 10.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks against the Liberty — numbers that are well below her season averages.

But keep in mind that two of their three meetings took place early in the season, and Griner has been at her best since the Olympic break. In her 10 games since returning from Rio, Griner is the league’s seventh-leading scorer (17.0), ninth-leading rebounder (7.6) and leading shot blocker (3.4). Charles appeared in seven of New York’s eight games after the break and averaged 22.0 points and 10.9 rebounds, ranking third and first, respectively.

Stats Spotlight: Efficiency vs. Opponent

Phoenix OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
vs. New York 104.4 114.7 -10.4
vs. All Teams 105.0 103.7 1.3

 

While the Mercury’s offense was nearly just as efficient against the Liberty as they were against the entire league, their defense was significantly worse, allowing 11.0 more points per 100 possession to New York compared to how they performed against the entire league.

New York OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
vs. Phoenix 114.7 104.4 10.4
vs. All Teams 100.3 99.5 0.8

 

On the other hand, New York’s defense was only slightly worse against Phoenix, but the Liberty more than made up for it with their outstanding play on offense. No team scored more points per 100 possessions against Phoenix as New York, with Minnesota second at 110.2.