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What to expect when Sky, Mercury meet again in WNBA Finals

The teams are making history as the first fifth and sixth seeds to play in the Finals since the league established its new playoff format in 2016.

Diana Taurasi controls the ball against Courtney Vandersloot during the final moments of the first half of Game 3 of the 2014 WNBA Finals in Chicago.
AP

PHOENIX — The Sky and Mercury are taking us back to 2014 with their rematch in the WNBA Finals, which begin Sunday in Phoenix.

Neither team has played in the Finals since then, when the Mercury swept the Sky. This time, they’re making history as the first fifth and sixth seeds to play in the Finals since the league established its new playoff format in 2016.

Both teams survived two single-elimination games and a best-of-five series to get here. The Mercury edged the Liberty in Round 1, beat the Storm in Round 2 and knocked out the Aces in the semifinals.

The Mercury took a 2-1 series lead but lost Game 4 convincingly before edging the Aces in Game 5. After closing their semifinal series against the Sun in four games, the Sky flew to Las Vegas on Friday morning to get their bodies adjusted to the time difference. They watched Game 5 together.

While their roads to the Finals were similar, both teams didn’t arrive in Phoenix in the same condition. The Mercury are short-handed and hurting. Kia Nurse is out for the remainder of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in Game 4, and Sophie Cunningham is working through a strained calf. She was sidelined for Games 4 and 5 of the semifinals.

A key matchup is the Sky’s Azura Stevens against the Mercury’s Brittney Griner. There’s no stopping Griner, but Stevens needs to limit her production. Stefanie Dolson and Astou Ndour-Fall will be important off the bench in helping to contain Griner.

The Sky were able to hold league MVP Jonquel Jones to 16.3 points per game in the semifinals by crowding her space and doubling her in the paint. They’ll need more of that team defense to stop Griner.

“For us, it’s going to be about making them uncomfortable and making them do things they don’t want to do,” Dolson said.

The backcourt matchups will be entertaining. Skylar Diggins-Smith torched the Sky in three regular-season matchups — all Mercury victories — averaging 24 points. Injuries were a factor for both teams in those games. Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi missed two of the games, and Allie Quigley missed one.

PREDICTION: Sky in 4

This series will end in four games, with the Sky securing their first WNBA title. Here’s why:

The Mercury are depleted right now, and the Sky are not the same team that lost to them three times during the regular season. This Sky team can match the Mercury on offense, and their defense is the best it has been all season.

In the semifinals against the top-rated defense in the league, the Sky’s balanced attack proved too much for the Sun to handle. The Sky will need to be successful from beyond the arc, get everyone involved offensively and continue to push the tempo in transition. They have to defend the three-point line and take Griner off her game.

If they can do that, the Sky will win the title.

SERIES AT A GLANCE

Sky vs. Mercury

Game 1: Sky at Mercury, 2 p.m. Sunday (Ch. 7)

Game 2: Sky at Mercury, 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN)

Game 3: Mercury at Sky, 8 p.m. Friday (ESPN2)

*Game 4: Mercury at Sky, 2 p.m. next Sunday (ESPN)

*Game 5: Sky at Mercury, 8 p.m. Oct. 19 (ESPN2)

*if necessary