Nothing beats arising large when it counts probably the most.
The Phoenix Mercury‘s Brittney Griner and Brianna Turner and the Chicago Sky‘s Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Copper have zero MVP awards between them, however they’ve been the celebs of the 2021 WNBA playoffs, placing the Mercury and Sky every a win away from the WNBA Finals.
The semifinals resume with a doubleheader Wednesday (8 and 10 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), the place the top-seeded Connecticut Sun, with 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, and the No. 2-seeded Las Vegas Aces, with 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson, are on the verge of elimination.
With a loss, Connecticut would grow to be simply the fifth group that had the league’s finest file however did not make it to the WNBA Finals. If each the Solar and the Aces fail to succeed in the championship collection, it will likely be simply the second time that the Finals do not embrace at the very least one of many league’s prime two groups record-wise.
What else is on the road in these Recreation 4s? Which gamers have been rising to the event? And which gamers nonetheless have to?
The MVP of the postseason to date
WNBA playoff WARP via Recreation 3 of the semifinals. pic.twitter.com/BAvkblu2YW
— Kevin Pelton (@kpeltonWBB) October 4, 2021
The up to date playoff leaderboard in my wins above alternative participant (WARP) metric (see above) seems strikingly completely different from the leaders during the regular season.
To some extent, that was inevitable. The Seattle Storm‘s Breanna Stewart, who led the league in WARP a lot of 2021 earlier than ending fourth within the common season, by no means took the courtroom throughout the playoffs attributable to damage. And the Minnesota Lynx‘s Sylvia Fowles, who jumped Stewart to complete second behind MVP Jones of Connecticut, was bounced after a single recreation, ruling her out of a leaderboard based mostly partially on quantity. (Fowles’ lone recreation rated about as nicely by WARP as her typical one throughout the common season.)
Nonetheless, a few of the WNBA’s finest gamers throughout the common season have not performed as much as that normal within the playoffs. That begins with Jones, the runaway WARP chief regardless of lacking 5 video games to play in EuroBasket. Jones’ WARP common within the playoffs (.16 per recreation) is barely half what she averaged throughout the common season. Specifically, Jones is struggling to make photographs away from the basket. Throughout the common season, she hit 43% of her 2-point makes an attempt exterior the restricted space across the basket, in keeping with WNBA Superior Stats. Within the playoffs, that has dropped to 3-of-16 (18.8%).
The Phoenix Mercury are a win away from turning into the primary group to go from the opening spherical of playoff motion to the WNBA Finals (one thing Chicago may do) regardless of not getting correct capturing from Skylar Diggins-Smith, who’s making 31% of her 3s and 44% of her 2s to date within the postseason — down from 37% and 49%, respectively, within the common season. Diggins-Smith, tops amongst perimeter gamers and sixth total in WARP, is not among the many three Mercury gamers to crack the playoff prime 10.
As a substitute, Phoenix has relied extra closely on its frontcourt. Griner, third throughout the common season, has been the league’s Most worthy participant when it comes to WARP by a large margin within the playoffs as she instructions and navigates nightly double-teams. That assist has created alternatives for Turner, who ranks second within the league after ending fifth on the Mercury throughout the common season.
Lastly, there is a notable group lacking from the WARP leaderboard: Las Vegas has been shut out so far. Wilson, fifth throughout the common season, has shot 38% from the sector in opposition to Phoenix and is 9-of-18 from the foul line — surprising for an 88% shooter this season. Liz Cambage‘s restricted manufacturing within the postseason (11 PPG, 4 RPG in 19 minutes) was extra predictable after she battled a breakthrough case of COVID-19 late within the common season.
If the Aces are going to rally after dropping their final two video games by a mixed 53 factors, they’ll want their frontcourt stars to play much more like they did all 12 months lengthy en path to the No. 2 seed. — Pelton
Can Las Vegas make issues simpler for Wilson?
Wilson is used to battling for baskets, however Phoenix has made it actually troublesome. Based on ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson has simply two transition baskets over the three video games to date of the Aces-Mercury semifinal collection, and 25 of her 32 half-court area purpose makes an attempt have been contested.
She is 10 of 29 (34.4 p.c) when both Turner or Griner is the first defender on her. And when Wilson is getting open seems, they’re coming from locations the Mercury favor she shoot from: She is 9 of 25 (36 p.c) on uncontested makes an attempt.
In the meantime, Las Vegas’ protection hasn’t been in a position to gradual Griner both as a scorer or a passer. The Mercury are capturing 70% off Griner’s assists. — Voepel
Can the Solar make the Sky pay for doubling Jones?
Up to now, sending a number of defenders at Jones has labored for Chicago — particularly when considered one of them is Candace Parker.
Jones is capturing simply 27 p.c (3 of 11) when Parker is the first defender in opposition to her. Against this, Parker is capturing 6 of 12 in opposition to Jones’ protection. When the Sky has doubled Jones within the collection, understandably she has been restricted on openings to attain. Based on ESPN Stats & Information, Jones has simply 4 area purpose makes an attempt on 25 half-court performs wherein she has had a number of defenders.
The Solar’s perimeter shooters need to make it damage for the Sky to break down on Jones. Jasmine Thomas would possibly strive to do this extra in Recreation 4, however to date she’s 1 of 6 on 3-point makes an attempt when Jones was doubled. — Voepel
What else is at stake Wednesday?
The Solar (26-6) want to keep away from becoming a member of the small group of groups that had the very best file within the league however did not attain the WNBA Finals: the Los Angeles Sparks in 2000 (28-4) and 2004 (25-9), Connecticut in 2006 (26-8) and the New York Liberty in 2015 (23-11).
These 4 got here throughout the pre-2016 playoff format, which matched the Japanese and Western Conferences as a substitute of seeding the highest eight groups. In 2000, for instance, the Sparks and Houston (27-5) needed to face one another within the convention finals, and 5 of the groups within the West that 12 months had higher data than all however one group within the East. (Every convention had eight groups then.)
The one time the Finals did not embrace at the very least one of many league’s prime two groups record-wise was in 2006, when each the 26-8 Solar and 25-9 Sparks have been eradicated earlier than the championship collection. As a substitute, 23-11 Detroit and 21-13 Sacramento performed for the championship, gained by the Shock.
Chicago, in the meantime, is attempting to grow to be simply the third group with a file of .500 or worse to make the WNBA Finals. The Sky did it in 2014 after they have been 15-19, and Atlanta made it at 17-17 in 2013. Each of these groups have been then swept within the Finals. — Voepel
https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/32343917/2021-wnba-playoffs-which-player-mvp-postseason-far | Which participant has been the MVP of the postseason to date?