2021 WNBA Playoffs: Seattle Storm vs. Phoenix Mercury Second Round Preview, How To Watch

The Phoenix Mercury survived a major scare from No. 8 seed New York Liberty Thursday night to advance to the second round. Things won’t get any easier for them at this point as they will now travel to the Pacific Northwest for a showdown with the Seattle Storm. This game will also be single elimination and is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

After a 10-game winning streak after the Olympic break, the Mercury lost their last three games of the season to miss a top-four seed. One of the most crucial defeats in that stretch was against the Storm, and now they will seek revenge. But even with Breanna Stewart out, the defending champs won’t go down without a fight.

Before Sunday, here’s a closer look at this showdown:

(4) Seattle Storm vs. (5) Phoenix Mercury

  • Date: Sunday, September 26 | Weather: 3 pm ET
  • Location: Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett, Washington
  • TV: ESPN 2 | Live broadcast: WatchESPN

Players to watch

Storm: Jewell loyd

There’s really only one answer here, and that’s Loyd. She is one of his most important players under normal circumstances, but without Stewart she will have to take on an even bigger role. Simply put, Storm won’t win this game if Loyd doesn’t play well. They’ll need her to score a lot of points, just like she did against Mercury at the end of the regular season when she lost 37.

Mercury: Brittney griner

As in the first round, Griner is the player to watch here for the Mercury. Not only is she key to their success on both ends of the court, but how the Storm choose to defend her will dictate how the Mercury should play. The Liberty forced the ball out of their hands, prompting other players to step forward and take open shots. If the Storm does the same, can the likes of Sophie Cunningham deliver again? And if the Storm plays with a more direct style, will Griner be able to do his usual high-scoring game?

Three keys that will decide the game

Notable injuries

Both teams are dealing with key player injuries heading into this game. Reigning Finals MVP Breanna Stewart has not played since September 7 due to a foot injury, while Diana Taurasi has been out since September 6 due to an ankle problem.

Taurasi, who was left out of Mercury’s first-round win over Liberty, appears to be the more likely of the two to adapt. It was initially listed as questionable, suggesting that it is not far from coming back. A few more days off might just be the extra rest you need. As we saw Thursday night, the Mercury desperately missed his presence when he was not on the court. Their shots and plays give them a lot more options and take a lot of pressure and attention away from Griner. Also, his leadership cannot be replicated.

As for Stewart, she is officially out. When he fell a few weeks ago, the team only said it was a foot injury, and it’s still unclear exactly what he’s dealing with. Whatever it is, it hasn’t healed enough for her to play. To date, he has not even practiced with the team. As one of the best players in the league, the key to the Storm’s success on both ends of the floor, this is a huge loss.

How do the storms defend Griner?

Griner entered the league as a defensive force, but at this point in her career, she is a more impactful offensive player. Not just because of her ability to finish around the basket, which helped her rank second in the league in scoring, but because her size forces teams to adapt their game plan to counter it.

As we saw in the first round, Liberty decided that they were going to do everything they could to force the ball out of their hands. There were multiple defenders following her at all times, and when she got the ball there were times when she made a triple team. For most of the game, that strategy worked. Griner was limited to just eight shots, and Mercury’s supporting cast failed to fire. That eventually changed, as we know, and Mercury won thanks in large part to Sophie Cunningham having the best game of her career.

Now the question is, how does the Storm try to defend Griner? Will they copy Liberty’s strategy and force the likes of Cunningham, Shey Peddy and Kia Nurse to shoot? If Taurasi comes out again, it seems like a wise move. At the same time, on Mercedes Russell and Ezi Magbegor, the Storm have more options to launch Griner. Maybe they split the difference and not get too aggressive trying to get Griner to pass.

It will be interesting to see what the Storm do and how the Mercury react.

Can the Storm find enough offense without Stewart?

Breanna Stewart will not play Sunday, so the main question for the Storm is whether or not they can find enough offense in her absence. She is an important part of their defense too, of course, but she won’t be missed so much at that extreme.

After all their outings this offseason, the Storm remained an elite offensive team in large part because of Stewart’s scoring and versatility. Even in a somewhat bad year for her in terms of efficiency, she still scored 20.3 points and 2.7 assists per game, and the Storm’s offensive rating was a staggering 15.9 points per 100 possessions better with her on the court (107.3) than when she was. sat (91.4). Throughout the entire season, that’s the difference between being the best offensive team in the league with Stewart and the worst in the league without it.

So how do they find enough points to win in the playoffs without their best player? First of all, they’ll need a solid performance from Jewell Loyd. She finished second on the team in scoring this season with 17.9 points per game, and she is capable of taking care of games on her own, as we saw just a week ago when she scored 37 points against Mercury in the regular season finale.

Needless to say, Storm will also need someone from the supporting cast to step up, be it Mercedes Russell, Katie Lou Samuelson, or Epiphanny Prince. Finally, the Storm will have to hit 3 seconds. They were the best shooting team in the league this season, at 37.9 percent, and it’s a big part of their offense. It won’t be that easy without Stewart’s pass and the attention it attracts, but they will have to take shots from the outside to keep up with the Mercury.

Prediction

This one is hard to call, but with Stewart out, we’ll take the Mercury. They didn’t look very good against Liberty, but it will be much easier for them to find a consistent offense, and that should be the difference.

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