The Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury, two of the WNBA's perennial heavyweights, square off on Sunday afternoon in a WNBA single-elimination second-round playoff game in Everett, Wash.
Someone's season will end in the Seattle suburbs in the contest between the fourth-seeded Storm, the defending league champions, and the fifth-seeded Mercury. Key absences will have a huge impact on the outcome.
The winner will face either Connecticut or Las Vegas, the league's top two teams, in the best-of-five semifinals. Both the Sun and Aces earned double-byes into the semifinals with their top-two finishes.
Seattle hammered the Mercury 94-85 at home on Sept. 17 to assure that Phoenix would have to play a first-round playoff game. It took all the Mercury had to outlast upstart New York in that game, an 83-82 home win, a back-and-forth contest that wasn't decided until Brianna Turner's free throw with 0.4 seconds remaining.
Skylar Diggins-Smith led Phoenix with for 22 points, with Sophie Cunningham adding a career-high 21 points while making six 3-pointers.
Brittney Griner pitched in with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as the Mercury survived despite playing without Diana Taurasi, who missed her fifth straight game due to left ankle injury.
"Sometimes in the playoffs, you've got to win ugly," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. "We had to grind it out. They made us work for it. Also, you need a bit of luck. I'm just happy we were able to survive."
Taurasi is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
The Storm finished the regular season at 21-11 and won three of their final four games, including the season-ender against Phoenix. Seattle captured two of the three games between the teams this year.
Storm star forward Breanna Stewart is unlikely to play while still in rehab for a broken foot that has kept her out since Sept. 7. The Storm is 1-4 without Stewart this season, and is just 5-6 since the Olympic break.
But Seattle still has plenty of weapons, including Jewell Loyd (who had 37 points in the last game with Phoenix), and Sue Bird, one of the top players in league history.
"We're in as good of a spot as we can be without the MVP," Bird said, regarding Stewart's absence. "As an athlete, you're told no excuses and ... the fact of the matter is, we have to fill a huge hole, and everybody is going to have to step up."