Connecticut Sun (#1 seed, 25-9) vs. Indiana Fever (#2 seed, 22-12)
Regular season series: Sun won 3-1
06/08 @Ind: Sun 89-81
06/19 @Conn: Sun 88-85
06/21 @Ind: Fever 95-61
09/19 @Conn: Sun 73-67
While Atlanta always threatened a late run, these teams have been the top two in the Eastern Conference all season long. So it’s only fitting that they should be fighting it out for a place in the WNBA Finals. As with the West, the two contenders had contrasting paths through the first round. Connecticut finished off New York in two straight games and were done by Saturday night. Indiana dropped the opening game at home, shook up their starting lineup, and fought their way back to win a deciding game on Tuesday night. Now they travel to Connecticut for Game 1 of this series, where the Sun have been lying back and waiting for their opponents to show up all week.
Despite Connecticut finishing higher in the standings, most of the statistical categories gave Indiana the edge over the course of the regular season. Not by much, but the Fever were ahead in both offensive and defensive efficiency, among others, across the year. But these aren’t going to be quite the same teams that we saw in the regular season. Connecticut spent the second half of the year muddling through with fill-in options in the post alongside Tina Charles, while she also battled injuries. Now regular starter Asjha Jones is back from her achilles problem, and looked impressive in the series against the Liberty. Charles still has those injuries, and she’s had a few shaky rebounding games which the pain has likely contributed to, but most of the time she’s her typical MVP-level self both in the paint and with her mid-range jumper. Dealing with those two is going to be the highest priority for Indiana.
However, the Fever aren’t the same either. Indiana head coach Lin Dunn will likely start out the series with the lineup which served her so well against Atlanta, which isn’t quite the same as the group she relied on through the regular season. Erin Phillips came in at shooting guard for Shavonte Zellous, which added a little extra ballhandling to the mix (plus Phillips used to play for the Sun and took a while extricating herself from the franchise, so she might be particularly energised for this opponent). But the key change came at center, where Erlana Larkins replaced Tammy Sutton-Brown. That move gave Indiana energy and activity in the paint, along with a natural rebounder who makes up for her lack of height with effort and positioning. If Larkins plays the same heavy minutes again in this series, Connecticut will undoubtedly try to attack her and utilise their size advantage in the paint. But Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle had several inches on her as well, and couldn’t accomplish anything much once the Fever started using Larkins heavily inside. This could be where the series turns – Indiana need Larkins’s activity and rebounding on the floor, but if Connecticut can exploit her it could force Dunn to go bigger. Sutton-Brown or even Jessica Davenport may have to take up minutes at center to offer true size. Continue reading