Back on their home courts, can Mercury, Sky avoid elimination?

ByMechelle Voepel ESPN logo
Sunday, October 2, 2016

Minnesota and Los Angeles , the top two teams in the WNBA during the regular season, have looked every bit the best in the league during the WNBA semifinals. Both have 2-0 leads. Now it's up to Phoenix and Chicago, with some help with their home crowds, to try to extend their respective series.

That's going to be tough, because the Lynx and Sparks really have not left the door open for that to happen. The Mercury and Sky are going to have to force it open by taking the series leaders out of their comfort zones.

Sunday on ESPN, Chicago hosts Los Angeles (3 p.m. ET) and Phoenix hosts Minnesota (5 p.m, ET). The Lynx and the Sparks for the most part have done exactly what they wanted to do offensively; Minnesota won its two games by an average of 14.0 points, Los Angeles by 17.5.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve wasn't thrilled with her team's defense in Friday's 96-86 victory, so that will be her biggest focus. Of course, she expects the Mercury will be more energized by playing in Phoenix on Sunday.

But the defending champion Lynx are so good about not getting rattled, even by the sure-to-be-vocal Phoenix fans. For the Mercury, it's do-or-die time in a season where they've had multiple peaks and valleys. They have to avoid foul trouble, and they'll need a much bigger presence from center Brittney Griner than she had in the first two games.

A week ago Sunday, Chicago knocked off visiting Atlanta in a second-round single-elimination game at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. As joyful as the Sky were after that game, realistically they knew they'd have their hands full in this series with the Sparks.

That would be the case even if 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne were healthy for Chicago. With her out with a thumb injury, the Sky really have to play at an extraordinarily high level defensively to try to keep the Sparks from running away from them.

The Sparks' post players stole the show in the opening game, a 95-75 victory. In the second game, which Los Angeles won 99-84, the Sparks bombarded the Sky both from inside and outside the paint.

Los Angeles is trying to make the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2003.

"I'm coaching a lot of mature players, and they're pros. So not much needs to be said," Sparks coach Brian Agler said when asked if there's any different approach he takes since it's a potential series-clincher. "We just talk about what we think we're going to see and prepare for that. And just understand that they're going to be playing with a tremendous sense of urgency. And we're going to have to play that same way."