The Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky took very different routes to the 2014 WNBA Finals.
Led by Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, the Mercury have steamrolled through the league. They went a staggering 29-5 (.853) in the regular season and proceeded to win four of five postseason games, including two of three against the defending-champion Minnesota Lynx.
They are 19-1 at US Airways Center, making them heavy favorites with home-court advantage.
That's no problem to the Sky, whose season has been defined by resiliency. They eliminated the Atlanta Dream with a one-point win in Game 3 and won two straight against the Indiana Fever—including a double-overtime thriller in Game 2—to book a spot in the finals despite an injury-plagued 15-19 regular season.
It's the juggernaut vs. the Cinderella. Let's take a look at everything you need to know about the tantalizing matchup.
|2014 WNBA Finals Schedule|
|1||Chicago at Phoenix||Sun, Sept. 7||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|2||Chicago at Phoenix||Tue, Sept. 9||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|3||Phoenix at Chicago||Fri, Sept. 12||8 p.m.||ESPN2|
|4||Phoenix at Chicago||Sun, Sept. 14||5:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
|5||Chicago at Phoenix||Wed, Sept. 17||9 p.m.||ESPN2|
The WNBA would like to market this series as the Mercury's Brittney Griner vs. the Sky's Elena Delle Donne, two of the three stars from the 2013 draft class.
Phoenix would appear to have the advantage in that particular matchup, as Griner is the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, while Delle Donne is dealing with a back injury. As Mercury digital content coordinator Ben York noted, though, the latter has still found ways to contribute:
The interior matchup between two of the league's rising stars is undoubtedly important, but the series will swing on the play of Mercury point guard Diana Taurasi.
An eight-time All-WNBA first-teamer and two-time WNBA champion, the 32-year-old is made for these moments.
After averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists per contest in the regular season, she has upped those numbers to 22.8, 4.8 and 5.4 in the postseason. In the Mercury's dominant series-clinching win against the Lynx, she poured in 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting to go with five rebounds and seven assists.
Teammate Penny Taylor, via espnW.com's Mechelle Voepel, summarized Taurasi's effect:
I have played with a lot of great players, and against a lot of them. There's no one that wants it more. I don't think she ever stops and says, 'Yeah, I'm good enough,' or 'I've won enough.' She works at it every single day.
And more than anything, it's her ability to take everyone on the ride with her.
The Sky have continually shocked the WNBA world, proving they should never be overlooked. But the Mercury are arguably one of the best teams ever led by one of the best point guards ever.
While it wouldn't be surprising for Chicago to steal a game, Phoenix, which swept the two-game season series, is simply too talented and too deep to be defeated three out of five times.
Prediction: Mercury win the WNBA Finals, three games to one.