The 2021 WNBA playoffs are upon us, with two single elimination games starting Thursday night: Wings-Sky and Liberty-Mercury. Here’s what our league enthusiast panel thinks you should expect in the weeks ahead.
1. Recap the 2021 season in one sentence.
Elizabeth Swinton: The 2021 season was highlighted by rising stars and historical chemistry, with an Olympic gold medal in the mix.
Wilton Jackson: It was an iconic one that featured head-to-head matches, young stars and established veterans who continued to elevate their game to new levels, and one in which the sports world took notice of the league’s audience growth.
Julie Kliegman: The Sun made the 25th anniversary season their own.
Ben Pickman: The Sun emerged first as a legitimate title threat, then turned into a true monster.
Kate Yanchulis: Bugs Bunny must have given the Sun a bottle of “Michael’s Secret Stuff“On Olympic recess, because Connecticut has been unstoppable ever since.
2. What team is your choice of dark horse to do a race?
KENTUCKY: The Wings have a losing record in their first postseason appearance since 2018. But their youth roster, the youngest in the league, averaging 24.3 years old, has the energy to drive several rounds of playoff upsets, starting with Thursday’s game against Heaven.
WJ: Phoenix has all the right pieces to make the playoffs. This position is familiar territory for the Mercury. Since changing the playoff format in 2016, Phoenix has played in the first round of the last five postseason games. In three of the last five, the Mercury, who were one game away from reaching the WNBA Finals in 2018, made their way to the semifinals despite losing each time. While there has been much talk of Phoenix cutting its last three games of the regular season to three of the top four teams in this year’s postseason (Connecticut, Seattle and Las Vegas), the Mercury have beaten the Storm and the Aces. at least once this season. . And furthermore, nothing can be taken away from the dominance that Brittney Griner has provided this season, the game of Skylar Diggins-Smith and the impact of future Hall of Famer and veteran Diana Taurasi, who has been battling an injury at the left ankle. If Taurasi comes back for the postseason and plays at a high level, along with Diggins-Smith and BG, watch out: the Mercury could be on the way to get over the hump and shake up a few things this postseason.
JK: The Mercury don’t have to endure a single elimination game once again (renew the playoffs, Cathy Englebert!). Of course, Taurasi’s health will influence the team’s title odds, but Griner made a legitimate MVP case this season, and Diggins-Smith continues to do Diggins-Smith stuff.
BP: The Mercury. In early September, I wrote that Mercury, led by Diggins-Smith and Griner, were peaking at the right time. While they’ve calmed down a bit heading into the playoffs, Phoenix still has the high-level talent to beat anyone in a single elimination game or short series. While Sandy Brondello’s team doesn’t rely heavily on his bench, Phoenix’s starting lineup is powerful, posting a net rating of +47.6 since play resumed in mid-August. A Taurasi ankle injury at the end of the season gives me a bit of pause, but as a dark horse pick they could definitely make a run.
IT IS: Sky has yet to shoot full blast with their full group, but the playoffs may be the stage where they perform up to expectations. Chicago has the offensive talent to make a career out of it, but it has a lot to prove and will have to outmaneuver top talent to hold on to any championship aspiration.
3. Who will be the rising star this year?
BP: Breanna Turner. She is already considered one of the best and most versatile defenders in the league, and she’s in line to get even more recognition for everything she does on the court this postseason. Considering the fact that the Mercury are the best team to play Thursday in the first round, Turner, still 25, could face a series of tough defensive assignments if Phoenix can get past both New York and Seattle.
WJ: With the level of talent on the different teams, this was a difficult one. Ezi Magbegor from The Storm, Lynx’s aerial powers, Brionna Jones from Sun all came to mind. But the player I think could really take her momentum from the regular season to the postseason is Kelsey Plum. It has been great to see her recover after not playing the 2020 season due to a torn left Achilles tendon. He dramatically increased his production this season (14.8 points, 3.6 assists per game) of the 2019 campaign (8.6 points, 3.0 assists) and took a big leap in September, averaging almost 22 points in 26 minutes while shooting 49.4% from the court. In fact, after the All-Star break, Plum averaged more points, minutes and assists and posted a higher field goal percentage, all while coming off the bench. She is my favorite to win the league’s Sixth Woman of the Year. His production will likely carry over into the postseason and could serve as one of the X factors for the Aces’ second race in a championship.
IT IS: The Sun’s Brionna Jones established herself as a consistent and dependable inside threat alongside likely MVP Jonquel Jones during Connecticut’s impressive season. Jones’ improvement led to her being named to her first All-Star team, and she is poised to continue to make a big impact in the postseason.
KENTUCKY: If No. 7 seed Dallas makes a run, it will be led by Marike—The acronym for the duo of Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbawale. Ogunbawale leads the team in scoring (18.7 points per game) and assists (3.3), and Mabrey is right behind her in both categories (13.3 and 2.9) as the Wings’ sixth extraordinary woman. College teammates at Notre Dame, the guards even debuted his own t-shirt in time for the playoffs.
JK: If the Wings can last a round or two, the playoffs will become Arike Ogunbowale’s show. Can I summon a ringer beater into existence?
4. Who will be the most memeable player in this postseason?
WJ: A’ja Wilson is different, both on and off the court. When she’s locked in on the court, knocking down the shot at mid-range shooting, being dominant in the paint, and getting to the free throw line often, she’s unstoppable. But, she’s also full of life and personality off the court on the bench with her teammates, being goofy, or having fun Instagram live chat sessions with her former coach Dawn Staley. I’m pretty sure there will be memes of her playing on the court, as well as her being just herself away from the hardwood.
KENTUCKY: As soon as Aces star Liz Cambage fought back with a bucket of popcorn While he was on the bench at the All-Star Game, this place was his to lose. Add in your legitimate issue with Sun’s coach Curt Miller, who was suspended earlier this season for comments about Cambage’s weight, and there’s no competition.
IT IS: I’m looking for the player who will go as viral as Sparks’ Erica Wheeler did at the end of the season while putting Sue Bird and Odyssey Sims on skates. The next unfortunate victim of being angered will be the main meme of this postseason.
BP: I’m not sure about a player, but I hope a lot of good content comes out of the Sun, like this jewel from the end of August.
5. What is your prediction of the final?
JK: Freedom over any one in three. Just kidding, unless! But really, Sun over Aces in three. I hate the idea of another devastating loss for Wilson & Co., but I don’t think anyone is beating Jonquel Jones in his prime.
BP: Sun over aces in four. It’s hard not to pick Connecticut to take home this year’s title. They have the league’s likely MVP (Jonquel Jones) and a potential defensive zone (Jasmine Thomas and Briann January), along with a potential Most Improved Player of the Year (Brionna Jones). Oh, and that doesn’t include DeWanna Bonner, who is a two-time champion and a four-time All-Star, or Alyssa Thomas, a multi-time All-Star who, on her recent return from injury, will provide a boost to the table. job. Las Vegas also has a ton of firepower, but Connecticut’s strong defense and deep roster should help them prevail.
IT IS: Sun over aces in four. The storm and the lynx may have something to say about it, but the sun and the aces seem to be on their way to meet in the final. The teams have been one level above the rest of the field this season and have proven difficult to beat on offense and defense. The Sun went 3-0 against the Aces in the regular season and appears to be in a position to mount their 14-game winning streak to their first title.
KENTUCKY: Aces on the sun in five. Las Vegas fell to the Storm in the Finals last year, but the team played that series without Cambage or Plum. Connecticut was 3-for-3 against Las Vegas in the regular season, but look to the Aces to avenge those losses and capture the title that eluded them in 2020.
WJ: Aces on the sun in five. I hate betting against Breanna Stewart and Storm, but I’m taking my chances here. I know some will look at the regular season matchups and say that the Sun beat the Aces in all three games and held Las Vegas (one of the best offensive teams in the league) to less than 70 points each time. That’s true, and give a lot of credit to the Sun’s defense, which has been the foundation of the team’s success along with the spectacular play by Jonquel Jones, DeWonna Bonner, Brionna Jones & Co. Connecticut will seek to avenge their three-point loss at the Final game of the best-of-five series a year ago. However, if both Wilson and Liz Cambage are dominant in every game in the series, combined with the elevated play of Plum, Chelsea Gray, Dearica Hamby (who suffered a right knee injury that prevented her from playing the final finals), Jackie Young and Riquna. Williams: Las Vegas has a chance to win its first WNBA title. The Aces were my favorites to win at the beginning of the season, and I stick with my decision.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.