The fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury survived the team’s first-round matchup with the New York Liberty on Thursday, advancing to Sunday’s second round.
The Mercury, thanks to a last-second free throw by Sami Whitcomb, held on to beat the eighth-seeded Liberty at GCU Arena, 83-82, and now play the No. 4 seed Seattle Storm in the Emerald City.
The Mercury and Storm tip off at noon Arizona time (3 p.m. Eastern) on Sunday, with ABC carrying the contest live nationally.
Sunday’s contest against Seattle will be the second Mercury WNBA Playoff game to take place since sports betting in Arizona launched on Sept. 9.
Mercury Are Underdogs on Sunday
Phoenix is considered a slight underdog against the defending WNBA champs.
The Mercury’s futures odds to win the league championship remained at +900 on PointsBet Arizona and improved to +750 on BetMGM Arizona after Thursday’s win over the Liberty. Phoenix currently has the fifth-best odds to win a championship of the six teams left in the postseason at PointsBet, behind the Connecticut Sun (+200), Las Vegas Aces (+240), Storm (+400) and Minnesota Lynx (+800), but ahead of the Chicago Sky (+1600). At BetMGM, Las Vegas is favored at +200 with Connecticut at +225 as of Friday afternoon.
The Storm went 21-11 during the regular season and feature a fast-paced offense led by forward Breanna Stewart, the team leader in scoring (20.3 points per game) and rebounding (9.5 rpg) this season.
Another Storm stalwart to keep an eye on is guard Jewell Loyd, who averaged 17.9 points, 4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game for Seattle this season.
Then there’s the four-time WNBA champion and 12-time league All-Star, Sue Bird, who is averaging 10 points per game, to go with 5.3 assists and 2.6 rebounds this year.
Bird, who is in her 20th season in the league, is the WNBA’s all-time assists leader.
Mercury’s Mixed Success Against Storm
The Mercury have had a mixed bag of success against the Storm in 2021, going 1-2 against Seattle during the regular season.
Phoenix won its last showdown against Seattle, 85-77, on July 9, thanks in large part to a 29-point, 15-rebound performance from forward Brittany Griner.
The Mercury were not as successful when facing the Storm on the road, losing both games played in Seattle, 94-85 and 82-75, respectively.
Status of Diana Taurasi
A key factor in the Mercury winning Sunday’s second round showdown will be the health of guard Diana Taurasi.
Taurasi missed the team’s opening playoff game with an ankle injury after being listed all week as questionable.
The Mercury’s odds of winning Sunday’s clash hinge on the health of Taurasi’s ankle, as the veteran guard gives Phoenix an extra element offensively.
Taurasi, who missed half of Phoenix’s regular season while injured this year, shined when she was healthy.
The former UConn star averaged 15.2 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game for Phoenix this year and was an effective deep threat for the Mercury.
Her ability to spread the floor prevented opposing teams from doubling Griner or guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, which allowed head coach Sandy Brondello to open things up on that side of the ball.
If Taurasi can go, even if she’s not at full speed, it’ll allow the Mercury’s offense to create scoring chances, which could prove to be the difference between an appearance in next week’s semifinals round and a second-round exit for the team.