After a shocking first-round upset in 2011, the Connecticut Sun are unlikely to let down in their opening matchup against New York, which essentially backed into the playoffs thanks to Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles-less collapse -- but that will shift the spotlight to what could be a wildly entertaining rematch of Indiana and Atlanta, which played a thrilling three-gamer last year, and seem on track to do the same in 2012.
But then again, the WNBA playoffs have a way of defying expectations, so don’t be surprised if things don’t go quite as planned – though if the Liberty manage to beat Connecticut, we’d suggest that coach John Whisenant immediately go out and bet the rent on the lottery.
Indiana vs. Atlanta
It may seem like déjà vu all over again, but actually favored Indiana (just like last year) took on streaky Atlanta (just like last year) in the 2011 conference finals rather than the first round.
Atlanta, of course, pulled off the upset after losing game one, but there’s reason for Indiana fans to believe the outcome will be different this time around. They remember that point guard Briann January (10.3 ppg a game, 1.6 A/TO) was out with an ACL last year and Erin Phillips was the starting point guard – but is that really a positive? Phillips averaged 6.1 ppg in 2012 while playing seven fewer minutes a game than January, and has a much superior 2.3 A/TO, not to mention plus/minus statistics show that Phillips is the better defender as well.
In addition, in the game Indiana won last year, Tangela Smith went for 25 – and she’s no longer on the roster.
On the other hand, Atlanta’s comeback was sparked by Iziane Castro Marques, who had 53 points in games two and three – and she’s no longer on the Dream roster.
Balancing that out for Atlanta fans, though, is the presence of Erika deSouza, who missed both those games while playing with the Brazilian National Team.
But why does last year matter? Because in many ways, these teams haven’t changed that much. Indiana still doesn’t shoot well, but the Dream can go ice cold from the perimeter. Indiana still gets lots of steals, and the Dream turn it over too often.
On the flip side, Atlanta still has Angel McCoughtry, and she’s more than capable of taking over a game, especially with DeSouza’s inside presence. And speaking of inside presence, the Fever really don’t have one. Neither Tammy Sutton-Brown nor Jessica Davenport shot better than 47% from the field, neither is a great rebounder and neither is a demon shotblocker.
Then again, there are two of them, and there’s only one deSouza, and she’s notoriously foul-prone.
And balancing out McCoughtry is the marvelous Tamika Catchings, while Katie Douglas and Sancho Lyttle – though playing different positions – are pretty much a wash as well.
Confused? Uncertain? Join the club. This series looks to be about as much of a tossup as it’s possible to be, and of course, the two teams split their four games this year.
If the Dream hits three-pointers, then Indiana’s defense will have to spread out a little bit, and deSouza and McCoughtry will take advantage. If Atlanta can’t knock down jumpers (we’re talkin’ to you, Cathrine Kraayeveld), then the Fever pack it in and pound on emotional Atlanta stars deSouza and McCoughtry.
Or you can look at it this way: If Atlanta can set the tempo on ultra-fast, the Dream win; if Indiana gets the game to stay in a first-gear, half-court war, the Fever roll.
There’s no compelling reason to go with either team, but just figuring that the law of averages will even things out, we’ll go with Indiana in three. But that’s about as certain as guessing which leaf will fall off the tree next, so sit back and enjoy what will be the most entertaining first round match-up.
Connecticut, with MVP candidate Tina Charles, is heavily favored to beat New York (photo by Teri Preibe)
Connecticut vs. New York
Here’s what it really comes down to: The Liberty have attempted fewer free throws than their opponents have made. In fact, New York’s 455 free-throw attempts for the season are by far the lowest in the league, and a major reason why the Liberty have struggled.
At the same time, not only did Connecticut go to the line 664 times, the Sun made 82.7% of those attempts, and generated 205 more points from the line than New York over the course of the season.
Connecticut also handles the ball better, thanks in great part to a career year from Kara Lawson (and why isn’t she in the MVP discussion?). Lawson’s 15.1 ppg, 49.3% shooting, 2.2 A/TO and 93.5% from the line are simply phenomenal.
And of course the Sun have Tina Charles, who unlike Cappie Pondexter, plays both ends of the floor. Pondexter is a tremendous offensive player but her defense – perhaps because of her point-scoring load and her 34.7 minutes per game – is less than stellar.
Maybe Pondexter can take over a game, and maybe Nicole Powell can have one of those nights where she hits six three-pointers, but barring a miracle (or a serious injury) it’s hard to see how the Liberty can win two out of three in this series. Not only did Connecticut win 25 games (to New York’s 15), but the Sun also have Asjha Jones back after missing most of the second half of the season. And even if the games are close, that just means it will come down to free throws – and we know which team has the edge there.
Connecticut, in short, sweeps, and New York fans are left wondering if the lottery might not have been the better option.