WNBA Playoffs 2021 Second Round Preview: (6) Chicago Sky at (3) Minnesota Lynx

The 2021 WNBA Playoffs presented by Google continue on Sunday with the Second Round, which features another pair of single-elimination games. Phoenix and Seattle get the action started, followed by Chicago and Minnesota to determine the final spot in the Semifinals, which tip off on Tuesday.

Chicago advanced to the Second Round thanks to an 81-64 win over Dallas on Thursday. The Sky led by as many as 21 points in the second quarter, but the Wings fought back to close the lead to four points as they outscored the Sky 21-11 in the third quarter. Courtney Vandersloot would score 11 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter to help the Sky pull away and secure the win. Kahleah Copper led all players with 23 points on 10-14 shooting, while Candace Parker added 11 points and game-highs of 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

Minnesota is back in the playoffs for the 11th straight season, which is one shy of Indiana’s WNBA record of 12 straight seasons from 2005 to 2016. Minnesota’s current streak dates back to 2011 when they won their first of four championships in a seven-year span. They are looking to return to the Finals since winning their last title in 2017.

SEASON SERIES (TIED 1-1)

Aug. 21: MIN 101, CHI 95

Minnesota scored a season-high 101 points in this win over Chicago as Layshia Clarendon led the Lynx with 18 points. Minnesota shot 54% from the field, 62.5% from 3-point range and made (28) and attempted (33) season highs in free throws in the win. The Lynx are unbeaten (14-0) this season when they shoot better than 46% from the field as a team. Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley each scored 27 points to lead the Sky, who played the game without Candace Parker; Chicago went just 1-8 in the nine games that Parker missed due to injury.

June 15: CHI 105, MIN 89

In their first meeting this season, it was the Sky that had the balanced scoring attack, with six players in double figures, led by Allie Quigley’s 23 points. The Sky scored 105 points (their second-highest scoring game of the season) and Courtney Vandersloot dished out 13 assists (her third-highest total of the season). Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier led all players with 27 points, which tied her season-high and career-high.

THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. Parker vs. Fowles

Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles entered the WNBA together as the top two picks in the 2008 WNBA Draft. They have combined to win three MVPs (Parker 2, Fowles 1), four Defensive Player of the Year Awads (Fowles 3, Parker 1), and three Finals MVPs (Fowles 2, Parker 1). The two faced off in back-to-back WNBA Finals in 2016 and 2017. Parker won Finals MVP for the Sparks in 2016, Fowles took the honor in 2017 for the Lynx.

When Fowles joined the Lynx in 2015 she took a championship team and turned them into a juggernaut, solidifying Minnesota as a WNBA dynasty. This is Parker’s first year in Chicago as she is looking to push a playoff team toward a championship. But a familiar – and formidable – foe stands in her way.

  1. Can the Sky beat the Lynx at home twice?

Minnesota went 13-3 at Target Center this season, trailing on Connecticut (15-1) for the best home record in the league this season. One of those three home losses came to the Sky on June 15. The Sky will look to repeat that feat on Sunday to advance to the semifinals.

Minnesota’s offense was similar at home (102.9) and the road (102.6), but their defense was much better at home (95.5) compared to the road (100.6). However, Chicago is one of only two teams this season (along with Phoenix, which is also on the road in the Second Round) to win more games on the road (10-6) than at home (6-10) this season.

And the numbers are similar to Lynx in that Chicago’s offense was not affected by location (just a 0.2 difference in offensive rating between road and home), but defensively, Chicago allowed 7.6 fewer points per 100 possessions on the road (95.6) than at home (103.2). It was the second-best defensive rating on the road of any team this season.

  1. Who will be the X-Factor?

The Lynx are 9-1 since Aerial Powers returned to the lineup on Aug. 21 in a win over Chicago in which she had 10 points in 14 minutes. Since her return, Powers is averaging 14.8 points (3rd on team) in just 21.6 minutes (6th on team).

Diamond DeShields had a tough night in Chicago’s First Round win over Dallas (four points on 1-8 FG, 0-3 3P), but can also take over a game off the bench as she did in the regular season finale against Indiana when she scored a season-high 30 points to go with seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block in just 23 minutes.

As Sophie Cunningham proved in the First Round for Phoenix, a playoff game or series can be determined by a role player that steps up at the right time and makes a huge impact. Both the Sky and Lynx have players that can fit that bill.

ONE STAT TO WATCH

The Sky (38.9 ppg) and Lynx (37.3 ppg) finished the regular season ranking second and third in points in the paint, respectively. While both teams excel at scoring near the basket, how they get those points is quite different. The Lynx rank second in the league in points on post ups (349) and first in points per possession (1.091) according to Synergy play type data. The Sky finished with just 144 post up points (8th) and scored 0.883 points per possession (9th).

Chicago derives its points in the paint from their pick and roll sets as they finished second in points scored by the roll man in pick and roll (209) and first in points per possession (1.181). Minnesota rank 10th in roll man points (124) and eighth in points per possession (0.952).

Which team will be able to defend the basket best in this matchup? When we look at the season numbers, the edge goes to Minnesota as they allowed the fourth-fewest points in the paint (32.9), while the Sky allowed the second-most (37.9). In the two regular season meetings, the Lynx held a five-point advantage per game in the paint (47.0 to 42.0).