The No. 3 Connecticut Sun and No. 6 Minnesota Lynx open up the best-of-three series in Connecticut, with a trip to the semifinal round on the line. The Sun held a 3-1 advantage over the Lynx during the regular season (all played on or before August 1).
June 1: Sun win 89-84 at Target Center in Minneapolis, MN
June 22: Sun win 89-68 at Target Center in Minneapolis, MN
July 30: Lynx win 87-83 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT
August 1: Sun win 79-69 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT
Game One: Mohegan Sun Arena – 8:00 p.m. ET on September 13 (ESPN2)
Game Two: Mohegan Sun Arena – 1:00 p.m. ET on September 17 (ESPN)
Game Three (if necessary): Target Center – TBD on September 20 (ESPN)
The matchup is set. The 2023 @WNBA Playoffs begin this Wednesday, September 13th at 8PM at Mohegan Sun Arena!
— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) September 10, 2023
Matchups We Can’t Wait to Watch:
Jamauri Bowles: The first intriguing matchup is between the two backcourts: Tiffany Hayes and Natisha Hiedeman for the Sun, and Kayla McBride and Tiffany Mitchell for the Lynx. Hayes and Hiedeman averaged 12.1 points per game (PPG) and 8.5 PPG, respectively, while McBride and Mitchell averaged 14.3 PPG and 7.3 PPG, respectively. The Sun have to expect the Lynx backcourt will look to take some pressure off of Napheesa Collier carrying the offensive load. Connecticut needs to keep someone like McBride out of rhythm and force Collier into tougher situations. The Sun also need production from Hayes and Hiedeman to go along with the offensive prowess that both Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner bring to the table.
Also, I’m thinking about how the teams stack up shooting-wise from beyond the arc. During the season, the Sun shot 36.0 percent from three-point range, while the Lynx shot 32.5 percent. The Sun were the worst three-point shooting team against the Lynx this season, yet the Sun shot at 30.6 percent from three, so that means every other team averaged at least 30 percent in this category against the Lynx. Meanwhile, the Lynx shot 29.5 percent from three against the Sun. The Sun defense needs to lock in on preventing primary Lynx shooters like McBride and Diamond Miller from catching fire from the perimeter.
Mitchell Hansen: The battle between Collier and Bonner—two players who have been key offensive producers during the regular season—fascinates me. Collier has been playing as steady as Minnesota could have hoped all year long, finishing the regular season fourth in the WNBA in scoring while playing at an MVP-caliber level. Collier has also performed well against Connecticut this season, averaging 25.5 PPG, 4.5 rebounds per game (RPG), 3.0 assists per game (APG), and 2.0 steals per game (SPG) in two outings against the Sun. Collier will have to step up again if the Lynx want to have a chance to upset the Sun, so I’ll be watching throughout this series to see if she can not only lead Minnesota offensively but also lock down Bonner on the other end of the court.
JB: I think the performances of both teams’ benches will come into play. In each of the four regular season meetings, the team that had the most bench points won the game. Between Lynx reserves like Bridget Carleton, Rachel Banham, and Nikolina Milić, and Sun reserves like DiJonai Carrington, Tyasha Harris, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, which bench is going to have the bigger imprint on the game? The two teams averaged nearly the same amount of bench points during the season: 19.3 PPG for the Lynx, and 19.2 PPG for the Sun. Additionally, they were the top two teams in the league in three-point shooting percentage: 40.9 percent and 35.9 percent for the Sun and Lynx benches respectively. However, in the regular season series, the Sun bench scored 22.0 PPG and shot 40.0 percent from three-point range, while the Lynx bench scored 19.8 PPG and shot 29.2 percent from three-point range.
MH: The biggest X factor for Minnesota is Collier. The success and the failures the Lynx have seen this season have started with Collier, and the team goes as she does. Although Collier is and will continue to be Minnesota’s most important player, what has taken this team to the next level has been the contributors outside of Collier, namely McBride and Miller. I’ll also be watching how Dorka Juhász, in her first playoff experience, handles the dominant Sun duo of Bonner and AT in the paint.
Turnovers will be a prominent X factor for the Lynx. The Sun are a strong defensive team, finishing the regular season second in defensive rating (98.8), but they also do a great job of forcing teams into turnovers, ranking second with 15.8 turnovers forced per game (including 16 per contest against Minnesota).
JB: The Sun will sweep the Lynx.
It feels likely that the Sun, a team that won 27 games, wrap up the series before risking a do-or-die game in Minnesota. To be more specific with my prediction: I think the Sun will win one game by double digits, and the other by six points or less.
JB: Tiffany Hayes will lead the Sun in points scored in one game this series.
Excluding Brionna Jones, who is out for the season due to injury, Hayes was the Sun’s third-leading scorer in the regular season. With a field goal percentage of 47.6 percent and a three-point shooting percentage of 36.6 percent, Hayes is more than capable of providing a scoring punch, particularly if Bonner (the Sun’s leading scorer) has an off-night shooting the ball.
MH: Minnesota will win one game in Connecticut.
Do I think the Lynx will upset the Sun in this opening-round matchup? I don’t. Connecticut is just too tough for Minnesota to overcome, and I think the Lynx’s lack of playoff experience will be a dominant factor. However, I do think Minnesota will steal a game on the road, forcing a winner-take-all Game 3 in Minneapolis. Ultimately, the Sun will win the series in three games, but my prediction is for the Lynx to make a battle of it.
MH: Napheesa Collier will average a double-double in the series.
Collier has been so good for Minnesota this season, and her game somehow turned up a notch at the end of the regular season. The Lynx need all of that and more in this first-round battle, and I believe Collier will average a double-double over the course of the series. She has shown her ability to score early and often against the Sun, averaging 25.5 points over two games against Connecticut this season, and she has been rebounding well as of late, averaging 11.3 boards over the last three games of the regular season. The stars step up on the biggest of stages, and Collier will do just that to boost the Lynx’s playoff chances.
Stats as of September 13, 2023. Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of WNBA.com.