Though it wasn't always pretty, the Chicago Sky did more than enough to get past the Dallas Wings in the first round of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs. Next up in the second round, which is also single elimination, the Sky will take on the Minnesota Lynx, who had a first-round bye. That game is set for Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis.
After their disappointing regular season, the Sky will hope to get past these single-elimination rounds and make a real run at a title. The Lynx, of course, will have other plans. They've only lost three times since the middle of June, and all of those defeats were to the Connecticut Sun or Las Vegas Aces -- the two best teams in the league. Point is, they'll be tough to beat, especially at home where they were 13-3 this season.
Ahead of Sunday, let's take a closer look at this matchup.
(3) Minnesota Lynx vs. (6) Chicago Sky
- Date: Sunday, Sept. 26 | Time: 5 p.m. ET
- Location: Target Center -- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- TV: ESPN 2 | Live stream: WatchESPN
Players to watch
Sky: Candace Parker
As always, the player to watch for the Sky is Candace Parker. She's not going to score the most points, especially at this stage of her career, but her versatility on both sides of the ball is crucial to everything the Sky want to do. Plus, the Sky usually follow her lead. If she's active and playing well, they sometimes look like the best team in the league. If she doesn't, well, they don't.
Lynx: Napheesa Collier
Due to overseas commitments, Napheesa Collier missed the first three games of the season, and the Lynx stumbled to an 0-3 start. Once she returned, they went 22-7 the rest of the season -- a 0.758 winning percentage that over the course of the full season would have been good for second in the league. She might be the most versatile player in the league, and the Lynx are much better on both sides of the ball with her on the floor.
Three keys that will decide the game
Lynx's homecourt advantage
The Lynx closed the season winning nine of their last 10 games to secure that No. 3 overall seed. With it, they not only got a bye to the second round, but guaranteed they would play that game at home. That's important from both a current and historical perspective, and the Lynx's well-regarded fan base could prove decisive.
This season, the Lynx finished 13-3 at the Target Center, which was tied for the second-best home record in the league. And two of those losses came early in the season before Napheesa Collier rejoined the team. Coincidentally the other was to the Sky back in June, but the point remains: the Lynx are extremely difficult to beat at home. One key reason is that their defense is markedly better at home, where they allow just 95.5 points per 100 possessions -- a mark that would have been good enough for second in the league overall.
When you zoom out and look at things from a historical perspective, the numbers also bode well for the Lynx. Since the WNBA moved to this new playoff format, home teams are 11-5 in the single-elimination games. (Those numbers don't include the 2020 bubble season.)
Can the Sky find consistency?
The Sky's lack of consistency has been a major talking point all season long, and it's going to continue to be for as long as they remain in the mix. Injuries have been part of the problem, but even when they've been healthy you still don't know what you're going to get game-to-game. Three times this season they won a game by double digits and then lost the next game by at least nine points.
Sometimes the problem even pops up quarter-to-quarter. Take the first round, for example. The Sky came out with all sorts of confidence, were active on both sides of the ball and had a 21-point lead before the Wings even realized there was a game going on. But instead of taking care of business, they were listless for a large part of the second half, scored just 11 points in the third quarter and saw their lead shrink to just three points.
While they eventually got back on track to hold off the Wings, they can't get away with those sort of lapses against the elite teams in the league. Unfortunately for them, that's all that's left at this point in the season.
The paint battle
Though they get their baskets in different ways -- the Lynx are a more post-up heavy offense, while the Sky prefer pick-and-rolls and transition -- both of these teams love to score around the basket. The Sky finished second in the league in points in the paint at 38.9 per game, while the Lynx were right behind them in third at 37.3 points.
For the Sky, that meant 46.7 percent of their points came in the paint, while for the Lynx it was 45.1 percent -- first and third in the league, respectively. Because each team generates so much of their offense in that area, if either side is able to stifle the other it could end up being the difference in the game.
Will the Sky have an answer for Sylvia Fowles on the block? In two games against the Sky this season she scored a combined 29 points on 13 of 21 from the field. Likewise, will the Lynx be able to slow down the Sky's pick-and-roll? Chicago scored a league-best 1.181 points per possession when finding the roller this season.
It's worth noting that the Sky have been a much worse defensive team for most of the season, but especially since the Olympic break. In particular, they were getting gashed inside, and allowed their opponents to score 38.7 points in the paint per game from the restart to the end of the regular season. The Lynx, meanwhile, were fourth in the league allowing an average of just 32.8 paint points. That's a worrying sign if you're a Sky fan.
The Sky are more than capable of winning this game, but they've just been too untrustworthy this season. We'll go with the Lynx then, who have a better defense and are at home where they've been spectacular.