The WNBA season has come down to a finals matchup between the Chicago Sky and the Phoenix Mercury. The best-of-five series opens Sunday in Phoenix.
Michelle Smith of espnW joined Bill Littlefield to preview the matchup.
BL: Phoenix won the title in 2007 and in 2009. Mercury star Diana Taurasi was on both of those teams. And this time around she has Brittney Griner on her side. The 6-foot-8 center shot over 70 percent from the field in the conference finals against Minnesota. Is there any reason to think Chicago can slow Brittney Griner down?
[sidebar title="Brittney Griner On OAG" width="630" align="right"]In April, Griner joined Bill Littlefield to discuss her new autobiography, 'In My Skin.'[/sidebar]MS: You know, I would say, Brittney Griner specifically, possibly because Chicago has Sylvia Fowles who is one of the best centers in the world, and that will be certainly a matchup to watch. But in the picture, I'm not sure Chicago has enough to slow Phoenix down over a five-game series.
BL: Chicago's biggest star is Elena Delle Donne who missed some of the season due to illness and then parts of several playoff games with a bad back. Is she likely to be anywhere near full strength for the finals?
MS: You know, it’s hard to say. I talked with Elena after the game the other night that closed out the Eastern Conference finals, and she is hurting. She said she's hoping for a little magic on her back because it's not feeling well. And she's had some acupuncture. She's getting treatments — perhaps a few days of rest will help, but she is not feeling very well at all, and I think that's going to be a big hindrance to Chicago.
BL: My favorite story on the Chicago roster is Allie Quigley. Twenty-four points on Wednesday night. She carried the Sky in that game. She was cut or waived by four teams before finally landing in Chicago last year. Getting to the Finals must be an especially satisfying thing for a player who's had such trouble even sticking with a team.
MS: Yeah, Allie Quigley is a great story. Chicago is her hometown team. She grew up in Joliet, Ill. She’s a highly coveted player in the European leagues because she's a great shooter and she plays that style that they like in Europe. But she had trouble sticking, and [Chicago coach] Pokey Chatman saw her when she coaching in Russia, said, “Come, I will sign you as a free agent.” And she was the Sixth Player of the Year in the WNBA this year for the first player off the bench and she’s had a huge contribution — especially with Delle Donne hurt; Quigley’s been huge for Chicago.
BL: Michelle, last year, a website called 24/7 Wall St. identified 10 brands likely to disappear in 2014, and the WNBA was on the list. The reasoning was that the league had only endured because NBA commissioner David Stern wanted it to endure. 24/7 Wall St. said when Stern retires, which he has now done, the WNBA shrivels up and dies. That hasn't happened. Is there a danger that it will happen?
[sidebar title="From The WNBA To NBA" width="630" align="right"]This summer Becky Hammon became the NBA's first full-time female coach.[/sidebar]MS: I don't think there is. Adam Silver — the new commissioner in the NBA -- was instrumental in creating the WNBA. And I think that the NBA has absolutely no interest in casting the WNBA loose. I think that they get some mileage out of it.
A lot of the teams have independent owners now. Some of the teams break even. A few make a small profit. A couple of them are making — they’re trying to minimize losses. But the league is willing to support it and I just don’t envision a scenario where that stops. I read that as well and I saw that article, and I thought, “These people have not done their research” because I don't see the NBA letting go of the WNBA.
BL: Michelle, we usually end this sort of conversation by asking for a prediction but you’ve kind of already made your prediction. I guess.
MS: Phoenix is going to win this series. I would be stunned for another outcome. Phoenix has dominated the league the entire season. They lost only six games during the regular season. I don't know. I think this is really a tall order — no pun intended on the Brittney Griner issue. If this series goes five games I think that would be a surprise and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sweep.
This segment aired on September 6, 2014.