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The WNBA Finals are here! Game 1 kicks off today between the Phoenix Mercury and the Chicago Sky at 3pm ET. PointsBet Sportsbook lists the Mercury as a 2.5-point home favorite, with the Total set at 167.5.
This is not the Finals matchup we expected. It is the first time since the WNBA playoff format change in 2016 that neither the first nor second seed made it to the Finals. The Mercury is the sixth seed, and the Sky the fifth.
While the two sides have played the underdog role throughout the playoffs, there is no shortage of star power in this Finals. Each team has three All-Stars: Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Copper.
With so much star power on each side, this series will be all about the individual matchups and chess match between the coaches and their rotations. Below, I preview each matchup in the starting lineup before providing my favorite bet for Game 1.
Starting with the point guard match up we have Diggins-Smith and Vandersloot. Diggins-Smith was outstanding against the Sky during the regular season. She averaged 24 points on 54.1% shooting in three games. However, Diggins is shooting just 37.6% in the playoffs so far. Vandersloot, perhaps the best passer in WNBA history, has recorded 10 assists in six of her 17 career games against Phoenix. She started the playoffs by recording just the second triple-double in WNBA playoff history, and a playoff-record 18 assists. Vandersloot is averaging 14 points and 8.7 assists on 50% shooting throughout the first three rounds.
In the shooting guard spot, it's Taurasi vs. Allie Quigley. Now, it's nearly a guarantee that the two-time MVP has the edge in this matchup. Taurasi has been incredible these playoffs and seems to have fully recovered from an ankle injury that was bothering her in the earlier rounds. Taurasi's averaged 20.8 points while shooting 45.6% from the field and 40% from 3. Meanwhile, Quigley averaged 13.5 points in Chicago's series against the Connecticut Sun while shooting 37.5% from 3. Her ability to knock down shots from beyond the arc could be the X-factor for the Sky. According to ESPN, Chicago is 12-1 this season when shooting at least 38% from 3-point range.
Moving into the frontcourt is the small-forward matchup. The Mercury typically start Kia Nurse in this spot, but she tore her ACL in Game 4 of the semi-finals series. Therefore, Phoneix is counting on Shey Peddy to replicate Nurse's numbers. In the elimination game against the Las Vegas Aces on Friday, Peddy did just that. She scored 15 points and knocking two clutch free throws in the final seconds. For the Sky, they have Copper in this spot. She has been the best player on the team this season and hasn't slowed down a bit in the playoffs. Cooper is averaging 18.2 points per game in the playoffs on 53.2% shooting.
At the power forward position is the heart and soul of this Chicago team: Parker. She's done it all for the Sky in the playoffs. Parker's excellent positioning allows her to find easy buckets and pull in rebounds. The Mercury will have Brianna Turner attempt to slow up Parker. Turner was a menace against the Aces on the defense end of the floor. She held 2020 MVP A'ja Wilson to 15 points or less in four of the five games.
Last but not least, we have the centers: Griner vs. Azura Stevens. Griner has been unstoppable at times during these playoffs. She's nearly averaging a double-double with 21 points per game and 9.7 rebounds. It is not expected for Stevens to eliminate Griner from the game, but if she can at least slow her down and remove one of her scoring options, whether it be her post game or mid-range jumper, that may be enough.
Final Prediction and Pick
This series could go either way, and I expect each game to be close. Given that the Mercury are coming off an emotional elimination game on Friday and that the Sky should be well-rested, I like Chicago to win a majority of the individual battles and cover the spread.
Edge: Chicago Sky (+2.5)
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