Going into the final day of the regular season, the Phoenix Mercury were vying for one of two final WNBA playoff spots along with three other teams. In order to extend their season, the Mercury either needed to win or a Minnesota Lynx loss. With the team missing its best three players in Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and Skylar Diggins-Smith, things weren’t looking great. Luckily the Connecticut Sun came through, beating the Lynx 90-83 and eliminated them from the playoffs.
While making the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year is a great feat, Phoenix now is tasked with facing the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces, who finished the regular season on a four-game win streak.
The Aces were 3-0 against the Mercury this season with an average margin of victory of 16.67 points and that was with Taurasi and Diggins-Smith playing. Overall the Aces had the league’s best offense scoring 90.4 points per game.
If Phoenix is going to have a chance of pulling out the upset, they will have to start by slowing down Las Vegas’s dynamic duo in Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson, which will not be an easy task.
Plum, one of the league’s best shooters, was second in the league in points per game with 20.9 while shooting 42% from the three-point line.
Wilson has the opportunity to win her second MVP award after having another great all-around season. She averaged 19.5 points per game while shooting over 50% from the field for the first time in her career. She also set a career-high in rebounds with 9.4 per game while her 1.9 blocks per game lead the league.
Even if Phoenix can slow down the duo, the Aces still have Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray who both averaged over 10 points per game.
For the Mercury, it’s going to be up to Diamond DeShields and Sophie Cunningham to carry the workload on offense. They are going to be the only two players available on the roster who average double-figures in scoring.
If Phoenix is going to have a chance, it will need role players such as Jennie Simms, Megan Gustafson, and Brianna Turner to step up.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anyone is giving Phoenix a chance in this series. ESPN’s experts all have Las Vegas sweeping the series in two games, and FiveThirtyEight gives the Aces a win probability of 88%.
With expectations so low, there certainly won’t be much pressure on Phoenix in this series. If the Mercury can make either game close, they series will not look like a total failure.
No matter how deep a team is, losing your best player is always going to hurt. When a team is missing its three best players, that’s a recipe for disaster. Even fully healthy Phoenix would still be the underdog, but without key contributors, the difference in talent is too much to make up.