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On a night where Diana Taurasi was crowned as the WNBA's "GOAT," the Chicago Sky spoiled her celebration with a convincing 91-77 victory to take a 1-0 lead over the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Finals.
Taurasi, the league's all-time leading career scorer, started out hot with an off-balance three but her night quickly went downhill from there. While Taurasi finished with 17 points, she also tied her career playoff-high with six turnovers and looked visibly frustrated on the court as she struggled with foul trouble.
Taurasi's whirlwind week continued with this game. She brought Phoenix back from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter of an elimination game only two days prior, and also helped her wife Penny Taylor give birth in between. While it would be understandable to blame fatigue or lack of preparation for the Mercury's rough showing, Taurasi made no such excuses, telling ESPN's Ros Gold-Onwude "We're not tired, we're just getting our ass kicked right now."
Game 1 was far less about Phoenix's mistakes and fatigue and more about a Sky team that hit its stride in the postseason and is proving why many around the league were bullish on Chicago's chances following Candace Parker's homecoming this offseason. The Sky improved to 22-9 this season in games where Parker was active, showing her value to the team.
Parker is one of three players in this series to be selected to the W25 team, honoring the 25 greatest players in league history. A simple glance at the rosters might suggest Phoenix has the star power advantage, with Taurasi and Brittney Griner each named to the W25 team in addition to All-WNBA First Team selection Skylar Diggins-Smith. The Mercury's big three combined for 52 of the team's 77 points in Game 1 but couldn't overcome Chicago's balanced roster that saw six players score in double digits.
One of the most subtle advantages the Sky exploited was the team's ability to stretch the floor. The Sky shot under 35% from beyond the arc in Game 1 but Chicago's stretch bigs forced Griner and Brianna Turner to step out to the perimeter, opening driving lanes for Kahleah Copper and other slashers.
Copper continued her exceptional playoff run with a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds. The Rutgers alum flashed creativity and explosiveness on her finishes, with 10 of her 21 points coming from inside the paint with a game-high seven second-chance points. As a team, Chicago outscored Phoenix 48-32 in the paint and 15-7 on second-chance points.
Point guard Courtney Vandersloot also put up a double-double with 12 points and 11 assists. In doing so, she became the first player to have more than 10 assists and 0 turnovers in a WNBA Finals game, according to Across the Timeline.
Bettors looking to wager on the Finals outcome have more options than usual for alternate markets. One line that caught my eye was at Bet365, where you can take a Game and Series double on Chicago to win Game 2 and the series at +140. No team has come back from a 2-0 deficit to win the WNBA Finals, so a Game 2 win would effectively wrap up the series for the Sky. If you think the Sky will win Game 2, I'd prefer that line to the +125 moneyline price for Wednesday's matchup.
If Phoenix can bounce back to win as -2.5 home favorites in Game 2, I think there's a strong chance the series goes all five games. Books currently favor Chicago to close out the series at home in four games, with the DraftKings line for a four-game result at +140 compared to +160 for five games and +250 for a three-game sweep. However, Chicago was a much better team on the road than at home this season, going 6-10 at home and 10-6 away during the regular season.
Since the playoff format was revamped in 2005 to include a best-of-five series for the WNBA Finals, only two series ended in four games, with seven sweeps and seven series going the distance. I think the Mercury have a strong enough team to win Game 2 and steal at least one game in Chicago to reclaim home court advantage. However, Phoenix has no answer for Copper's athleticism on the wing and the Sky should still prevail in a hard-fought series. Sky in Five.
EDGE: Series to go Five Games +160
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