The 2015 WNBA Playoffs begin on Thursday, and so that means it’s time for WNBA Playoff Previews. We have a lot of good stuff for each series, including highlights, multiple written sections and a podcast. Yes, the section titles are Rihanna lyrics. Shout out Rihanna. Let’s get into it.
Phoenix Mercury (2)
Griner and Bonner lead the way in Diana Taurasi’s absence.
Three Most Important Highlights
Tulsa Shock (3)
Sims and Williams save tumultuous season, lead Shock to playoffs.
Three Most Important Highlights
“Don’t act like you forgot, I call the shots, shots, shots”
Player who will control/define this series
There are plenty of talented and important players taking part in this series, from DeWanna Bonner to Odyssey Sims to Candice Dupree to Riquana Williams. But only one of them blocked nine shots in one game this year. Only one of them has dunked on numerous occasions. Only one of them stands 6’8” tall with a 7’4” wingspan.
That one, of course, is Brittney Griner. The Mercury center is a force unlike the league has ever seen. On defense she controls the paint with ease, sending away four shots a night on average. She set the league record for blocks in a game with 11 last season, and almost reached that mark again this year, denying 9 Lynx attempts a few weeks ago. Griner had 11 games with five or more blocks, an absurd figure considering she played just 26 games. And those figures don’t even take into account the shots she’s altered or prevented from even being attempted.
Against Tulsa, Griner will be even more important than usual. No team took more shots inside of five feet than the Shock, who put up 969 attempts from that distance, 65 more than the next closest team. The Shock love to get into the lane and finish around the rim, especially Odyssey Sims, the team’s leading scorer. Only 12 players took more shots from inside five feet than Sims, which seems like an important time to mention that she’s a 5’9” guard. Sims is lightning quick, and crafty at finishing with her favorite left hand, but to do so in this series she’ll have to venture into Griner’s domain, which hasn’t been a pleasant experience for too many players this season. In large part due to Griner’s dominance, the Mercury allow opponents to shoot just 49 percent inside of five feet, the best mark in the league. Griner and company have controlled the paint all season long, and if they do that in this series, as they should, it will go a long way in stifling Tulsa’s potent offensive attack.
Defense is Griner’s calling card, but don’t let that distract you from the impact she has on the other end. There’s no doubt her offensive game can still use some work, but she still averaged 15 points a game and lead the league in field goal percentage at 56.5 percent. She often commands a double team, leaving shooters like DeWanna Bonner and Leilani Mitchell with easy looks on the perimeter. Oh, and she’s a good free throw shooter as well, checking in at nearly 78 percent this year, so you can’t go the hacking route.
Long story short, the Shock are going to have their hands full with Griner up and down the court this series.
“Now that it’s raining more than ever, know that we still have each other. You can stand under my umbrella”
Unheralded player that will prove vital in this series.
Fourth overall pick in 2003, two-time WNBA champion, and member of the 2015 Western Conference All-Star team doesn’t seem like the resume of an unheralded player, but so it goes for Plenette Pierson.
The 13-year veteran is having one of the best seasons of her career in her return to the Shock organization, averaging 13 points and 4 rebounds a night, while shooting 36 percent from three. And boy are the Shock ever glad to have that production from her, especially with the absence of Skylar Diggins, who has missed most of the season after tearing her ACL.
With Odyssey Sims and Riquana Williams leading the way offensively, most of the attention goes their way. But while Pierson doesn’t get the same level of recognition for her play, it doesn’t mean it’s less important. She’s been a steadying force in a tumultuous season for the Shock. Odyssey Sims missed a lot of time early in the season, Skylar Diggins of course hasn’t played in months, and it was announced during the middle of the campaign that the team will be moving to Dallas after this seasons. But Pierson, in her 13th season, has been as solid as ever, playing nearly 30 minutes a night while missing just four games.
And with her ability to stretch the floor from the power forward position, she’ll be as important as ever in this series against Phoenix. Always a reliable mid-range shooter, Pierson has expanded her range to the three-point line this season, shooting 36 percent from behind the arc. It was on just 37 attempts, which is about one a game, but the point remains: whether she’s behind the line or not, she can knock down shots from the perimeter. While Tulsa will need her to knock down some shots, the spacing she provides on the offensive end will be just as important, as it opens up driving lanes for Odyssey Sims who loves to get into the paint and cause havoc.
Plus, Pierson is not just a shooter when she catches the ball on the perimeter. She is quite capable of putting the ball on the deck and making things happen either for herself or teammates. That of course causes problems for opposing defenses, because if they close out recklessly on her, she’ll just drive right past them.
Odyssey Sims and Riquana Williams make the Shock go, but they won’t get past the Mercury without Plenette Pierson.
Game 1: Tulsa at Phoenix, Thursday September 17, 10:00 PM EST (ESPN 2)
Game 2: Phoenix at Tulsa, Saturday September 19, 9:00 PM EST (NBA TV)
Game 3 (If Necessary): Tulsa at Phoenix, Monday September 21, 10:00 PM EST (NBA TV)