Today is Thursday, Sept. 23rd and you know what that means! It's officially time for the first round 2021 WNBA playoffs!
Tonight's slate of games should be exciting as the Dallas Wings take on the Chicago Sky at 7 pm central and the New York Liberty take on the Phoenix Mercury at 9 pm central, all on ESPN2.
The format for round 1 is win or go home style meaning the intensity of these two games will be heightened and fully energetic for all four teams.
Without further ado, here are my predictions for tonights games.
Photo courtesy of Dallas Wings twitter.
Dallas Wings @ Chicago Sky
Against a ton of odds that didn't have the Dallas Wings cracking the top 8, they persevered and clinched the 7th seed.
On the other side, the Chicago Sky missing out on the playoffs wasn't really a lingering thought in people's heads, as they were able to clinch the 4th seed.
The Wings have some of the best shooters in Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale and Allisha Gray.
Mabrey has gone from the starting lineup to the sixth player off the bench periodically throughout the season but she has shown up for a good majority of them, providing stellar three point shooting, passing and being a much needed spark.
Arike Ogunbowale has continued her dominance in shooting while also being a sneaky good passer. Here 18.7 points and 3.3 assists per game leads the Wings.
Allisha Gray, also known as Gold Medal Lish, has grown into a much more defensive player, especially following her Olympic Gold medal in 3x3, as well as driving to the basket more often. Her defensive aggressiveness has improved as she has set career highs in rebounds (5.2) and blocks (0.8).
On the inside, Bella Alarie has really grown into herself this season and Isabelle Harrison looked dominant Sunday night against the Sparks, going 7-7 for 14 points, in her first game back since testing positive for COVID-19.
The Sky have threats in 1-5 both in their starting lineups and off the bench.
Sharpshooter Allie Quigley spent most of the season coming off the bench as a scoring spark. She is second in the league in 3 point percentage, shooting at a 45.4% clip.
Her wife, Courtney Vandersloot, continues to take advantage of the passing lanes, leading the league in assists per game with 8.6. She's also been disrupting the passing lanes, averaging 1.7 steals per game, good for third in the league.
In her first year with the Sky, Candace Parker has faced some injuries that kept her out for a lot of games but that didn't stop her from producing on the offensive or defensive ends, averaging 13.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, good for second and first on the Sky, respectively.
Keys and predictions:
If the Wings want to upset the Sky and move on to the second round, they'll have to see overall consistency on both sides of the floor.
Ogunbowale is continuously on a scoring tear and is a threat from anywhere on the offensive end. She is practically unguardable.
But when she isn't able to get a shot up, she has Mabrey and Gray to look for in scoring.
The front court will also have to produce in scoring and get past the hard defense and offensve of Chicago.
If Dallas can feed the front court, take smart shots, show consistency and play hard defense, they should be able to contain the Sky and stay in the game for the full 40 minutes.
Despite the overall talent of the Chicago Sky, they haven't really been able to answer to the young Dallas Wings team throughout the season,
They lost the overall regular season series to the Wings, 1-2, all in very close games.
If Quigley is able to catch fire like she often does, Vandersloot able to continue clamping up on defense and taking over the passing lanes, Diamond Deshields continues to prove she's the true spark the Sky have on the bench and Candace Parker continues to play bully ball, the Sky should be able to keep this game tight.
My prediction: It is the playoffs so you never know what will happen. Most people would probably choose the Sky to win but I am going for the upset and taking the Wings for the upset.
New York Liberty at Phoenix Mercury
I am not going to lie, this game is the one I am most looking forward to.
Throughout the season, the Liberty and Mercury have been going back and forth on social media since a tweet of Skylar Diggins-Smith breaking down Jazmine Jones for a layup was posted on Bleacher Report.
Ever since then, any matchups between the Mercury and Liberty have been highly coveted by fans and media alike.
The Mercury big three of Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi have been one of the best offenses in this league. Even with Taurasi being out a lot due to various injuries, the former two have been putting on a show.
Diggins-Smith has been an offensive menace and Brittney Griner has been dominant on both ends, producing a league leading 1.9 blocks per game and is second in scoring with 20.5 points per game.
Griner has also been high flying this season, throwing down five dunks this season to cap off her MVP like season.
On the bench, Sophie Cunningham has grown into her own, resetting career highs in every statistical category and career lows in turnovers and fouls.
Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images
For the Liberty, they barely squeaked into the playoffs, needing the Wings to complete the victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday to clinch the 8th and final spot.
Bentnija Laney continued on from her breakout 2020 season with the Atlanta Dream and led the Liberty in points with 16.8 and was the true leader on the court. She took on a more guard oriented role to give New York another two way weapon.
Since making her way east to the Liberty from the Seattle Storm, Sami Whitcomb has a most improved caliber year, resetting her career highs in every single statistical category, being a true asset.
Rookie of the year Michaela Onyenwere showed that she could play on the next level, averaging 8.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. She has been able to pick up pieces when the team was struggling and make captivating plays to help her team in any way possible.
Keys and predictions:
I don't think this game is going to be as competitive as people might think it will be.
Despite the Liberty having Natasha Howard as a defensive menace, Griner will end up being too much to handle.
The Liberty have also struggled mightily with turner, their achilles heal throughout the whole season.
With the outside shooting threats of Diggins-Smith, Taurasi (her status for tonight is still TBD), Cunningham and Shey Peddy, there are plenty of options to go to for a bucket if Griner is trapped down low.
I am taking the Mercury in this game. I do think it will be a close and competitive run but I believe the Mercury will take advantage of the Liberty turnovers, take over the passing lanes and get buckets from everywhere on the court.