Napheesa Collier says WNBA needs to change single-elimination format
Collier and Wilson lament the WNBA's single-elimination games and playoff structure.
We’ve reached a historic WNBA Finals, as the two teams with the lowest combined winning percentage in WNBA Finals history will square off for all the glory.
The No. 6 Sky made their way here by taking apart the top-seeded Sun, while the No. 5 Mercury clawed their way to a thrilling semifinal win in Game 5 over the Aces to set up a rematch of the 2014 Finals.
With so much on the line for the teams, it’s always fun to put something on the line for yourself as well. That’s where betting comes in.
Let’s get you set for everything you need to know to bet on the WNBA Finals.
The Sky present an interesting betting case as the quintessential “peaking at the right time” team. It’s often the case in sports that such teams find another gear to the extent that sportsbook models aren’t able to adjust fast enough.
This seems to be true with Chicago, who has not only won five of its six playoff games but also covered the betting spread in all five wins. That even includes two double-digit wins as underdogs.
Part of the reason is their elevated play, of course, and it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the contributions of players like Kahleah Copper or Azurá Stevens who have stepped up their game. But the presence of Candace Parker has been a key to this surprising run.
Much has been made of Chicago’s overall win-loss records with and without Parker this season, and that point remains true when looking at the records against the spread (ATS). At 11-11 with one push, the Sky were a .500 ATS team with Parker in the lineup during the regular season. In theory, every team should be a .500 ATS team if the sportsbooks are good at setting the lines.
In the nine games Parker missed, however, the Sky covered in just one of them. Combine that with the experience and intangibles the former champion brings to a franchise with no rings, and maybe we should have seen this coming.
Parker also had a significant effect on the totals during the regular season: The under hit in five of nine games without her on the floor but in just eight of the 23 games that she played. There were higher scoring totals in the games with last year’s Defensive Player of the Year on the court. Go figure.
It’s easy to forget now, but the Mercury entered the second half of the season firmly on the playoff bubble. They sat in seventh place at the Olympic break, just a game up on the ninth-place Wings.
What followed was a ten-game winning streak that cemented Phoenix’s status as contenders and earned their bettors lots of money in the process. The Mercury covered the spread in seven of their first eight games coming out of the break, and in doing so they launched themselves up the leaderboard of most profitable teams.
As it stands now, no team has earned its bettors more money on either the moneylines or the spread. Including the regular season and the playoffs, the Mercury are 25-13 against the spread (with a push) and would have earned $888 for bettors who bet $100 on all of their moneylines.
The concern for Phoenix going forward will be depth. With Kia Nurse’s season over and Sophie Cunningham still nursing an injury, Sandy Brondello played just seven players in Game 5 against Las Vegas. Kia Vaughn and Bria Hartley combined for 20 minutes, which was the entirety of the bench’s contributions.
Shey Peddy was sensational in the win — and has been for the last few games in which she’s been called on to step up — but the soon-to-be 33-year-old had played 30 minutes just once in her career prior to September. The injuries and heavy starter minutes in the Game 5 war against Las Vegas may come back to hurt the Mercury as they go deeper into the Finals.
Where Phoenix can make up for that is in the paint. Chicago doesn’t have a Liz Cambage, so Brittney Griner will have a decided size advantage over anyone Chicago can throw at her. Expect more doubles in this matchup, so Phoenix’s perimeter shooting will be vital.
When talking about the history between these two teams, the 2014 Finals immediately come to mind. Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner all played in that one, in which Phoenix emerged with the trophy.
More relevant for betting on this year’s iteration, Phoenix took all three regular season matchups in 2021. The first two were without Parker on the floor, and both were essentially coin-flip games. One ended in overtime, the other gave us a half-court Eurostep for the win.
A EUROSTEP HALFCOURT GAME WINNER 😳— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) June 2, 2021
Kia Nurse 🔥🔥🔥pic.twitter.com/8HMnfAEXIn
The Mercury took the last matchup by 20 points in the midst of their incredible August run. All three games closed with the home team favored by fewer than two points, and Phoenix covered in each game.
Before this year, the Sky had covered the spread in seven of their last eight matchups with the Mercury, including the last time they met in the playoffs — a 105-76 Sky win in the 2019 first round.
In typical pre-pandemic years, home-court advantage has been worth multiple points per game at basically any high level of basketball, including in the WNBA. After a 2020 season without home court for anyone, that factor was supposed to come back into play this season.
Not so, according to the numbers. Home teams outscored road teams during the regular season by less than half a point per game, and in the playoffs they’ve been practically even at 1,093 to 1,088.
Sportsbooks still don’t see it that way though. Lines for the semis moved by close to five points when the series shifted locations, a number that would have been consistent with past seasons’ data.
Home-court/field advantage has been steadily declining across most sports in recent years as replay review becomes more prevalent and limits the role of human error in officiating, but that wouldn’t be enough to explain the drastic drop in the WNBA this year. The culprit is presumably a combination of factors, such as fan restrictions at certain arenas and random variance.
Regardless, if bettors are looking for an edge on the spread in this series, the road teams may have one. They’ve covered in eight of 13 playoff games so far.
Another edge for bettors may come in the over/unders for each half or quarter. Not all sportsbooks offer this, but the ones that do generally set those lines by dividing the game total by approximately two for the halves and by four for the quarters.
That’s already a little inefficient during the regular season, when games tend to get slower and teams average lower scoring during each successive quarter (and thus half). During the playoffs, that effect magnifies as the energy expenditure ramps up and legs tire even earlier.
This year, teams have totaled 1,121 points in the first half of all playoff games and just 1,013 in the second half. The quarter totals have dropped from 595 in first quarters to 489 in fourth quarters, marking an 18 percent decrease. It may be worth betting on the overs for the first half and quarter or on the second-half and fourth-quarter unders.
Several sportsbooks are offering moneylines on the series winner, and they all like it to be a tight battle.
PointsBet Sportsbook has the Phoenix line at -120 and Chicago at +100, implying a 52 percent win probability for the Mercury.
Some books, PointsBet included, allow you to cash out your bet for the current value partway through (think of it like selling stocks). On those books, all you need for the Sky +100 side to turn a profit is for Chicago to steal one of two in Phoenix. If the series shifts to the Windy City knotted at one apiece, Chicago will likely take over as the favorite and that bet will increase in value.
On Thursday, BetRivers Sportsbook posted Finals MVP odds for top players from the three teams remaining at that time. That list has been cut to 11 players, led by Griner and Taurasi with +300 odds each.
Those odds work the same way as game and series moneylines, so check out our intro if you’re new to betting and are interested in putting money on a Finals MVP winner.
I’m looking at the point guards here for good longshot odds. Skylar Diggins-Smith is at +1000 while you can get Courtney Vandersloot for +1400.
In Diggins-Smith’s case, Griner and Taurasi are certainly more likely to take the award, but are they really over three times more likely? That’s what these odds imply, but the third member of the Big Three may be a little closer to the first two than that suggests.
As for Vandersloot, while voters do love to back the leading scorer (which will most likely be Copper), they also love all-around stats and leadership. As the veteran signal caller of the offense and the best passer in the league for several years running, Vandersloot has a pretty clear path to winning this award as well.
For a more likely bet, go with Parker at +400: Her status as a legend (and hometown hero) will be hard for voters to look past if the Sky win. Her odds are almost even with Copper, but that doesn’t accurately reflect the emotions and storylines that will be at play.
(Also, while I won’t recommend betting on her, can we just stop and appreciate the fact that Shey Peddy is on this list at all? You can actually bet on Shey Peddy to win the Finals MVP … and she’s even ahead of three players!)
For both Game 1 (Chicago +3.5) and the series, I see more value on the Chicago side. The way the Sky are clicking and the near-disappearance of home court should be enough to keep this series close, and that favors the underdog. The extra few days of rest shouldn’t hurt either.
As far as the over/unders, we’re talking about a Chicago team who made us forget how historic Connecticut was on defense and a Phoenix squad that is better equipped to simply outscore them than to stop them. Both have smaller offensively minded backcourts as well. I’ll ride the overs unless they start to creep too high later in the series. Game 1’s line is at 166.5 on PointsBet, a spot at which I’m definitely comfortable taking the over.
Whether you put money on the games or not, enjoy the moment. It’s not every year that we get a matchup this enticing and unlikely, so sit back and take it in. It’s bound to be entertaining.
Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats and Bet Her. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.
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