It has pretty much been a given that the Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury would end up facing each other in the 2011 WNBA Playoffs since about the moment the Mercury clinched their spot.
Tonight the Mercury made it official with a 91-76 win over a Tulsa Shock team that is approaching 30 losses this season, despite a game-high 22 points from Shock rookie center Liz Cambage.
With the win, the Mercury have assured themselves of finishing no lower than third place in the Western Conference and the full Western Conference semifinals schedule is set. The Storm will begin first round play against the Mercury on Thursday, Sept. 15 on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. PST.
Game 2 will be on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. and Game 3 will take place on Monday, Sept. 19 (if necessary).
All that's left to determine is where those games between the Mercury and Storm will be played, which could be sorted out tomorrow night when the Mercury travel to KeyArena tomorrow for the fourth and final meeting of their regular season series. With so much on the line, the Mercury aren't exactly worried about being tired either.
"I think our energy is going to kind of get us through it, we aren't even going to be thinking about how tired we are," said Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner, who is a strong candidate for her third consecutive WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year award.
So with the matchup certain, the possible outcomes of tomorrow night's game are as follows:
- If the Storm win tomorrow night, they'll win the regular season series 3-1 over the Mercury and clinch second place in the conference by virtue of holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.
- If Phoenix defeats Seattle and loses to the Minnesota Lynx (on Sunday), the Storm must beat former Gonzaga Bulldogs star Courtney Vandersloot and the Chicago Sky (Sunday) to finish second.
- If Phoenix wins its final two games (at Seattle, vs. Minnesota), it will clinch the second seed and home court advantage during the Western Conference Semifinals.
But the odds are certainly in favor of the Storm here.
In addition to the fact that the Storm have won 9 of the last 10 meetings against the Mercury, the Storm also present the Mercury with a difficult matchup challenge, as described by Seth Pollack of SB Nation Arizona.
The Storm are the best coached team in the WNBA and their defense has always managed to give Phoenix problems. On the other end, their two best players are at the Mercury's weakest defensive positions with point guard Sue Bird and center Lauren Jackson.
However, regardless of the past outcomes, the Storm and Mercury have always made for an exciting matchup making tomorrow night's game (7 p.m. PST, KONG) one worth watching. Mercury guard Diana Taurasi is ready for a chance to at least have home court advantage in the first round.
"We will just treat it like every other game, we will play the same way we have been all year," said Taurasi, who is currently second in the league in scoring averaging 21.24 points per game. "If you have to change things for a big game, than you aren't preparing the right way. So we will go to the airport early and go to Seattle and see what we can do that night."
The other semifinal matchup was also decided with the fourth place San Antonio Silver Stars now set to face the first place Minnesota Lynx in the first round.
The Lynx and Silver Stars will begin their series on September 16 at 6 p.m. PST on NBA TV. The Lynx won the regular season series 4-0, but to the Silver Stars' credit they lost two of those games by a combined three points without the help of then-injured rookie All-Star forward Danielle Adams. With Adams back in the lineup, the series might not be quite as lopsided as their records might suggest.