WNBA Commissioners Cup: Will Lynx win or will Liberty repeat?

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One brought back all of its key players. The other brought in key pieces. The results allowed both teams to reach the 2024 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals.

The New York Liberty, who are all returning after finishing second in the WNBA last season, will host the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday in New York (8 p.m. ET, Prime Video). Due to a conflict with the NBA draft at the Liberty’s usual home, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the game will be played at UBS Arena, about 20 miles east of Long Island. The Liberty are the defending Cup champions, beating the Las Vegas Aces on the road in last year’s final.

New York (15-3) and Minnesota (13-3) sit atop the WNBA standings, along with the Connecticut Sun (13-3), and they are near the top of the WNBA in most statistical categories. They are top two in overall field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made per game. But both teams are also good defensively, so Tuesday should be a strength versus strength matchup.

“Both teams like it, that’s how teams are built,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said of the three-point shot. “Our three-point defense is the best it’s been in years, so we hope that will be the case on Tuesday. And that we will take advantage of the three-point opportunities we get. That could be the element that decides the outcome of the game : our ability to score three points and defend on them.”

Reeve and Sandy Brondello of New York are also coaches of the U.S. and Australian women’s Olympic basketball teams, respectively. And there will also be several Olympians in the field, including Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier and New York’s Breanna Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu for Team USA.

The Lynx have won four WNBA championships (2011, ’13, ’15, ’17), but this is their first appearance in the Commissioner’s Cup finals, which began in 2021. The Liberty, the original franchise of the WNBA, are still searching for their elusive first WNBA title, so getting the Commissioner’s Cup trophy last season meant a lot to the franchise.

Minnesota won the first meeting of the season between these teams, 84-67 in Minneapolis on May 25. Tuesday’s game and stats don’t count toward the regular season, but with $500,000 in prize money and a trophy on the line, the Lynx and Liberty have a lot to play for. What do we expect from the game?

Did Minnesota or New York have the best start to the season?

Pelton: Although Connecticut also only recorded three losses, Minnesota (plus-10.7) and New York (plus-9.7) were the two best teams in the WNBA in point differential. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Liberty faced a slightly tougher schedule. The Lynx have benefited from playing 10 of their 16 home games, including winning the only head-to-head matchup thus far. Minnesota also benefited from the fact that its opponents shot just 27% from 3, the worst mark in the league. So even though the Lynx have improved significantly on defense, maintaining the best defense in the WNBA could be a challenge. Based on these factors, I’m going to say New York.

Voice : On paper, Liberty’s roster stands out more with two former MVPs in Stewart and Jonquel Jones, as well as two No. 1 overall draft picks in Stewart and Ionescu. All three have played well to start the season. But which team has had the more impressive start?

Minnesota, in part because most observers didn’t anticipate it playing so well together so early. Collier was a unanimous choice for the WNBA first team in our preseason projections, but there was uncertainty about the team around her. The Lynx don’t see it that way; they were confident from the start. But looking at how well guard Kayla McBride has played in her 11th WNBA season — she leads the WNBA with 3.3 3-pointers per game — as well as what appears to be the almost seamless integration of Courtney Williams and Alanna Smith , was enlightening for the most part. from U.S.

Who will have the upper hand in the matchup of MVP candidates and former UConn stars Collier and Stewart?

Voice : Collier is averaging 20.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.4 blocks and is shooting 45.8% from the field. Stewart numbers: 19.7, 8.6, 4.0, 2.2, 1.4 and 48.1%. Statistically, they look very similar. Stewart struggled more than usual from behind the arc, shooting a career-low 25.3% there. Collier’s 31.4% from long distance is consistent with his career percentage of 31.8. The reality is that Collier doesn’t have a post player of Jones’ caliber for New York. But what the Lynx have shown so far is the ability of the secondary players to play well collectively around Collier.

Stewart is coming off a great weekend in which she had 50 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists, 6 steals and 8 blocks in wins over the Sparks and Dream in back-to-back games. In his two games last week, Collier had 39 points and 22 rebounds. These are two ultra-elite post players. Collier may have to play a little better than Stewart for the Lynx to win this game.

Pelton: With Sunday’s game, Stewart has surpassed Collier as the second-best player in my wins above replacement players metric so far this season, although Collier still leads per game. McBride is right behind them.

It’s encouraging to see Stewart shooting the 3 again recently (9 of 18 over the past week) after a slump that extended into the 2023 playoffs, when she shot 20% from beyond of the arc. Before that, Stewart was the WNBA’s safest bet in big games, including two Commissioners Cup victories and an MVP award in the inaugural game in 2021. Based on that experience, I prefer Stewart on Tuesday.

What can each team take away from this match?

Voice : The Lynx can show they are just as much of a WNBA title contender as anyone else. I think they’ve already proven that so far in the regular season, but this would be another marquee win. As Kevin mentioned, they’ve done a better job limiting opponents from behind the arc this season. It will be especially impressive if they can do this to a team as good at 3-point shooting as the Liberty. The Lynx are also No. 1 in the WNBA in assists per game (24.0), with Williams (5.5) leading the way.

As for the Liberty, they are second in assists (23.4 per game) even though they haven’t had Courtney Vandersloot over the last eight games as she dealt with the death of her mother. But in his absence, Ionescu kept the ball well for New York. She averages a career-high 6.7 assists. New York entered this season with higher external expectations than the Lynx, considering the Liberty were runners-up in the WNBA Finals last season. But they go into this final feeling like they also have something to prove and want to defend their Cup title.

Pelton: Given the financial stakes, New York will be very motivated, but I think Minnesota has a lot more to gain here. The Lynx have reached the semifinals just once since their last of four WNBA championships in 2017, and that came in an empty arena as part of the Wubble in 2020.

Given that track record, this might be the most intense atmosphere of Collier’s WNBA career. Win or lose, the Lynx will benefit from that experience as they prepare for what appears to be a much longer playoff run this year.

Which team will you choose to win?

Voice : I give a slight edge to New York being “home”, even if it’s in a different arena than it usually plays. While the Liberty supports Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, she has missed the last three games with a knee injury. — and/or Vandersloot, it will also be an emotional boost for New York. But the Liberty will have to compete with the hunger of the Lynx to win this title. We might not have started this season saying this was the game we most expected in the Cup final, but it’s the one everyone wants to watch now.

Pelton: New York needs Laney-Hamilton to be clearly favored in this matchup. Remember, the Liberty bench – highlighted by the 17 points of Marine Johannes, who is preparing for the Olympics with the French team and who is not currently in the New York squad – was the key to last year’s victory in Las Vegas. With Vandersloot, Laney-Hamilton and Nyara Sabally all out lately, New York’s depth has been expanded. The Liberty haven’t needed Laney-Hamilton against weaker competition, but they will against Minnesota.

Assuming Laney-Hamilton can return, I would prefer New York to become the first home team to win the Commissioner’s Cup in the three years it was hosted by the best team in group play.

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