The 2021 WNBA Playoffs presented by Google continue on Sunday with the Second Round, which features another pair of single-elimination games. First up, is the defending champion Seattle Storm hosting the Phoenix Mercury at 3:00pm/ ET on ABC.
Phoenix survived a tough test from No. 8 seed New York in the opening round as the Mercury secured an 83-82 win thanks to a late free throw by Brianna Turner, and a career-best performance from third-year pro Sophie Cunningham who scored a career-best 21 points and sank six 3-pointers off the bench. The Mercury picked up the win without Diana Taurasi, who missed her fourth consecutive game with an ankle injury. She is listed as questionable for Sunday.
The Storm earned a first-round bye as they finished as the No. 4 seed in the playoff field at 21-11. Similar to the Mercury, the Storm also has a former MVP on the mend, but Breanna Stewart is out for Sunday’s game. Breanna Stewart has been out since suffering a foot injury in a win over the Mystics on Sept. 7.
SEASON SERIES (SEA 2, PHX 1)
The Storm won the season series 2-1, with all three games decided by single digits.
For Seattle, Jewell Loyd averaged a team-best 20.3 points per game on 43.8 FG%, 47.1 3P% (8-17) as well as four assists in three games against Phoenix.
For Phoenix, Brittney Griner averaged 23.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.3 blocks in three games against Seattle as she stuffed the stat sheet. Skylar Diggins-Smith (16.7 ppg) and Kia Nurse (16.3 ppg) each served as secondary scores to Griner as the Mercury were without Taurasi for all three games of the series.
THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH
- Diana’s Ankle
The status of Taurasi’s ankle looms over this matchup. Will she play?
Before Taurasi’s injury, the Mercury had been on an absolute tear – winning their first 10 games coming out of the Olympic break to vault up the standings. The only reason they weren’t the hottest team in the league is because Connecticut could not lose as the Sun closed the season on a 14-game win streak to earn the No. 1 seed.
- Playoff history
This will be the 14th game in the playoff rivalry between the Storm and Mercury; Phoenix holds a 7-6 edge in the all-time playoff series. The last time these two teams met in the postseason was in 2018 when they staged an epic five-game series in the semifinals.
The Storm prevailed as Sue Bird (donning her playoff mask thanks to another broken nose), caught fire from beyond the arc and carried the Storm to victory. Check out the highlights from that game as well as Taurasi’s incredible Game 2 performance.
- Seattle’s Drive for Five Begins
With their 2020 championship, the Seattle Storm joined the Minnesota Lynx and Houston Comets as the only teams to win four WNBA championships. Can they be the first to reach five championships? Can they be the first team to successfully defend the WNBA title since the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks?
The Storm are going for their fifth title overall and third in the last four seasons, and it all gets started on Sunday.
One Stat to Watch
The Storm led the WNBA in 3-point percentage this season (37.9%) and averaged 8.6 3-pointers made per game (third in the league). The Storm are 13-0 this season when they make double-digit 3-pointers.
However, the Mercury have been one of the best team in 3-point defense as Phoenix’s opponents shot just 32.2% from beyond the arc and averaged 7.1 3-pointers made per game – the third-lowest marks in the league in both categories.
The 3-point shot accounted for 30.4% of Seattle’s points during the regular season. If the Mercury can hold the Storm below their usual mark, it will go a long way toward their success as they look to improve to 9-2 all-time in single-elimination playoff rounds.