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WNBA Finals 2021: Keys to the Phoenix Mercury-Chicago Sky matchup

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The stage is set and two teams remain as the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury tip off a best-of-five series Sunday for a WNBA championship.

The Mercury advanced to their fourth WNBA Finals after defeating the second-seeded Las Vegas Aces in a thrilling five-game semifinal series. They got there by taking out the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm in first- and second-round single-elimination games. The last time the Mercury were in the Finals in 2014, they swept the Sky to earn their third WNBA title.

Phoenix won all three meetings between the two teams during the regular season, with two of the games decided by single possessions.

Despite depleted depth with injuries to Kia Nurse and Sophie Cunningham, the Mercury’s core of Olympians has found a way. Brittney Griner has led the way with 21 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in the playoffs, while Diana Taurasi has averaged 19.7 points per game and engineered multiple late-game comebacks.

The Sky, meanwhile, are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. After finishing the regular season in sixth place with a 16-16 record, Chicago flipped a switch in the playoffs, defeating the Dallas Wings and Minnesota Lynx in the single-elimination rounds before upsetting the top-ranked Connecticut Sun 3-1 in the semifinals.

Chicago has not been to the WNBA Finals since that 2014 meeting with Phoenix. Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot, who form the longest-tenured backcourt in the league, were a part of that team seven years ago. The Sky will lean on their chemistry, the championship experience of Candace Parker and the firepower of Kahleah Copper, who’s averaging a team-high 18.2 points per game in the playoffs.

What will it take for the Sky to earn their first-ever WNBA championship, or for Phoenix to win their fourth? We break down the Finals matchup, with keys for each team and a championship prediction.

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Candace Parker (Kena Krutsinger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Keys for the Chicago Sky

Energy and toughness

It takes a certain amount of grit to finish .500 in an up-and-down season and take your play to another level in the playoffs. The Sky have been the toughest team on the court throughout the postseason, no matter which opponent they’ve faced. They feed off of the energy of Copper, who will need to continue to be the most consistent player on the roster for Chicago to win a title.

The Sky will have success if they take advantage of their depth in this series. As a team that thrives on an up-tempo style of play, they need to run at the Mercury and expose their tired legs in the open court.

Rebound the basketball

This has been a major key for Chicago all season long. The Sky have been able to control the glass during the playoffs with a plus-two rebound margin against their opponents. Out-rebounding the Mercury will be no easy task with the 6-foot-9 Griner in the paint, but the Sky’s communication and rotations will need to be on point for them to limit Phoenix’s second-chance opportunities and create looks for themselves.

Offensive versatility

The Sky have five players who average double-figure scoring. Vandersloot, their lead facilitator, has been brilliant at finding her teammates in the situations where they are most successful. And as a team, the Sky are averaging 20.7 assists per game.

With steady and consistent performances from Parker, Copper and Vandersloot, Chicago can force the Mercury to pick their poison every night in terms of defensive schemes.

Limit turnover numbers

At this point, possession is an automatic key for any Sky game. So far in the playoffs, they haven’t let turnovers affect the outcomes of games as much as they did during the regular season, especially against the Sun, but a trend that plagued them earlier in the year could return. The last two semifinal games, in particular, got a bit sloppy for both teams.

Chicago plays fast and makes quick decisions, so some turnovers can be expected. But in order to win three more games and bring a championship back to Chicago, the Sky will need to limit their unforced turnovers and value every possession.

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Diana Taurasi (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Keys for the Phoenix Mercury

Others need to step up

Phoenix’s depth has been a reason for concern all season, but it’s reached a new level with Nurse out for the Finals with a torn ACL and Cunningham trying to work her way back from a calf injury. Coach Sandy Brondello said Friday night that the team expects Cunningham to return for Game 2 on Wednesday.

In their absence, the Mercury know what they’ll get from the “Big 3” of Taurasi, Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith. They’ll need Brianna Turner and Shey Peddy to continue to elevate their offensive production and defensive contributions to sustain Chicago’s depth.

Establish Griner immediately

Griner is playing the best basketball of her career at this moment. The Sky have length, versatility and size inside, but none of their post players can match up one-for-one with Griner. Running their offense through her so she can assert her dominance in the paint early on is as important as anything else. Where Griner goes, this Mercury team goes, and their hopes of winning a title depend on her playing the way she has been.

A fast start

Phoenix needs to apply immediate pressure to Chicago in this series. If the Mercury go down two games at home, I don’t see them being able to rebound on the road and win a championship. It’s critical they secure at least one win on Sunday or Wednesday to give themselves a shot.

Diana Taurasi

The X-factor in this fairytale rematch is Taurasi, the 2014 Finals MVP. The 39-year-old has continued to remind everyone why she’s in consideration for the title of the WNBA’s greatest player of all time. Taurasi has led the Mercury to all three of their championships in 2007, 2009 and 2014. She scored a playoff career-high 37 points in Game 2 of the semifinals and led Phoenix’s comeback in Game 5 on Friday night with 14 points in the fourth quarter.

Taurasi in a WNBA Final is something special, and Phoenix has always relied on her to be at her best in these moments.

Prediction

Chicago Sky 3-2

This series is going to be a battle. As remarkable as the Mercury have been with very little margin for error, I think their lack of depth will catch up to them and be the difference in the series, giving the Sky their first championship in franchise history.

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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