Mercury, Sun get rematch in single-elimination second round

ByMechelle Voepel via ESPN logo
Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Connecticut Sun saw this horror movie last year. They don't want to see a sequel.

The Sun will host the Mercury (ESPN2, 8:30 p.m. ET), and the Mystics will host the Sparks (ESPN2, 6:30 p.m. ET), on Thursday as the WNBA goes through the second playoff round of win-or-go-home. Top-seeded Seattle and No. 2 seed Atlanta are waiting in the semifinals.

For the fourth-seeded Sun, it's another playoff meeting with the No. 5 Mercury, who came into Connecticut last year in the second round and won 88-83. It put a quick end to what had been a feel-good season for the Sun. Phoenix has, in fact, made it through to the semifinals both previous years of this playoff format.

Last year, the Mercury beat Seattle at home and Connecticut on the road, and Indiana and New York, both on the road, the season before. Diana Taurasi's uncanny streak of going 12-0 in winner-take-all games will be on the line again Thursday.

Phoenix took control during Tuesday's second half in a 101-83 first-round win over Dallas, the Mercury's fifth victory in a row. It was tour de force for the Mercury's big three of Taurasi (26 points, 12 assists), Brittney Griner (17 points) and DeWanna Bonner (29 points, 11 rebounds). Phoenix also got strong play from forward Stephanie Talbot with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Last year in beating the Sun in the playoffs, Griner and Taurasi led the way with a combined 49 points, while the Mercury also got strong guard play from Yvonne Turner and Leilani Mitchell.

The Sun did a lot right in that game, even outrebounding the Mercury 39-29. But Phoenix's greater success from beyond the arc -- making nine 3-pointers to Connecticut's four -- plus nine crucial missed free throws by the Sun helped the Mercury.

This year, the Mercury went 2-1 in their regular-season series with the Sun. Phoenix won 89-72 on June 16 and 84-77 on July 5, both at home. Connecticut won at home 91-87 on July 13.

Sun forward Jonquel Jones could be the difference-maker. She has come alive since right before the All-Star break. She scored only nine points combined in the three games against Phoenix, going 4 of 17 from the field.

Contrast that to Jones' past 10 games, dating to July 22. In that stretch, she has averaged 18.5 points on 63.4 percent shooting from the field (71 of 112), and 6.6 rebounds. And in her past three games, she has made 11-of-16 3-pointers. Her ability to force defenses to come out to guard her can make the Sun especially dangerous offensively. Connecticut has five players averaging in double figures, led by Chiney Ogwumike at 14.4 PPG.

Thursday's first game pits a Los Angeles franchise that has won three WNBA titles and been in the past two Finals against a Washington franchise that has never gotten that far. But maybe this is the year for the Mystics, who are the No. 3 seed.

Their first test, though, will come against a team everyone knows is dangerous, even if it ended up with the No. 6 seed. The Sparks have had their ups and downs, the latter in part due to injuries and illness.

Los Angeles got through an emotional game against rival Minnesota 75-68 in Tuesday's first round, led by point guard Chelsea Gray's 26 points and six assists. Candace Parker was limited to two points but still played 30 minutes while not feeling well. Her team rallied around her, as Nneka Ogwumike had 19 points and Riquna Williams 17.

The Mystics won the season series with the Sparks 2-1. The teams won on each other's home court in the first two games: 97-86 Sparks on June 15, and 83-74 Mystics on July 7.

Their third meeting was just last Friday in Washington, and the Mystics prevailed 69-67 on Natasha Cloud's buzzer-beater. The Sparks were 8-9 on the road this season, so they'll have to overcome that to advance to their third consecutive appearance in the semifinals.

Mystics star Elena Delle Donne, who's averaging 20.7 points, had 16 points and 10 rebounds in last week's game against the Sparks, and as usual will be a big part of Los Angeles' defensive emphasis. Washington advanced to the semifinals last year as the No. 6 seed but were swept by Minnesota.