Congratulations to the Chicago Sky on making the franchise's first appearance in the WNBA Finals! Now just follow us this way off stage as we present you some lovely consolation prizes ...
Yeah, that's probably how it feels to the Sky and their fans as they enter the championship series against Phoenix as heavy-duty underdogs. You know the numbers.
The Mercury were 29-5 during the regular season, the Sky 15-19. The Mercury have won two WNBA titles, the Sky didn't win their first playoff game until last month. Phoenix, which has home-court advantage in the series, lost only once at home in 2014 (to San Antonio in May, in the third game of the season).
Phoenix had all five of its starters average in double-figure scoring during the regular season, and they're doing the same in the playoffs. Phoenix has been a juggernaut that not even defending WNBA champion Minnesota could stop. Chicago has lived on the razor's edge of elimination even going back to the last few weeks of the regular season, battling for a playoff spot.
And, to paraphrase a wise old sage, "Phoenix has Diana, Chicago doesn't." Guard Diana Taurasi is leading the avalanche-like Mercury offense with 22.8 points per game in the playoffs, while also averaging a team-best 5.4 assists.
So Sky, it's time for you to go all-1980 U.S. hockey team. Watch "Miracle." Pump yourselves up with that tired, old, "Nobody expects us to win," because in this case, it's a legitimate rallying cry. Nobody does expect it. Except, perhaps, you.
That will be critical for the Sky: believing it's possible to win this series, no matter what the numbers or the pundits say.
Now here are five questions for the WNBA Finals, which start Sunday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
1. How can the Sky turn this series into an extended revival episode of "Chicago Hope"?
It sounds breathtakingly obvious, but we'll pound it home more: The Sky simply have to win at least one of the first two games at Phoenix.
That's daunting, to say the least. With the full-throated "X-Factor" cheering on the Mercury, and the comfort level they have this season at US Airways Center, beating Phoenix at home seems like trying to win an election when your name isn't even on the ballot.
The Sky must become the ultimate write-in candidate. Consider that Chicago won both its Eastern Conference series with clinching Game 3 victories on the road. First at Atlanta (where that potential winning shot by Angel McCoughtry might still be bouncing around the rim), then at Indiana (where the Sky's defense was so good, there was no drama at the end).
2. About that Taurasi character: What do you do?
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said the Lynx did some good things to hinder Taurasi initially, but then the Phoenix guard figured them out.
"We thought we had a pretty good strategy against her, and a way of playing that could be beneficial to us," Reeve said. "We were hopeful we could steal one more game from them, but Taurasi's intelligence is such that she unlocked a couple of holes that we weren't able to quickly adjust to."
Taurasi was 5-of-15 (missing all six of her 3-pointers) for 17 points in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. Problem for the Lynx was, Phoenix still won 85-71.
Chicago can review what the Lynx did when they were most effective against Taurasi. But then that brings us to ...
3. How do you slow down the rest of Phoenix's offense?
It's a multifaceted question. One thing you must do is make shots at your own end. When Minnesota played pretty well offensively against Phoenix -- see Game 2 and the first three quarters of Game 3 -- the Lynx could limit the Mercury's devastating transition game. When Minnesota couldn't make shots in the fourth quarter of Game 3, it quickly became a Mercury rout.
The Sky must also try to keep the Mercury players away from their sweet spots on the floor. If Mercury center Brittney Griner gets the ball on the block a lot, the Sky is going to have Sylvia Fowles in foul trouble (although the reverse is true, too).
Phoenix forward Candice Dupree can be deadly with short jumpers, and she will also make quick cuts to the basket, where she finishes at a very high percentage. Overall in the playoffs, Griner is shooting 64.8 percent from the field, and Dupree 60.4.
Phoenix's DeWanna Bonner will nail 3-pointers, especially from the corners, in the blink of an eye. Penny Taylor has proudly taken on a "Garbage Queen" role, keeping Phoenix's possessions alive with offensive rebounds or scoring herself on putbacks.
The Mercury haven't gotten a lot off their bench offensively, because they haven't needed it. But ask Minnesota how dangerous Erin Phillips can be in the playoffs. The Aussie guard, then with Indiana, averaged 10.1 points in the 2012 postseason and was a big part of upsetting the Lynx in the WNBA Finals that year. Now she's on the side of the series favorite.
4. Do we have some love for the Sky?
Of course! A lot of it. Who can't feel good for Fowles? She went from a college program at LSU where she made the Final Four each of her four seasons to a WNBA team that didn't make a playoff appearance until her sixth year in the league.
Big Syl has battled through lingering injuries and played for some Sky teams that just didn't have enough talent to get over the hump. Now, in her seventh WNBA season, she's at last in the Finals. And she has averaged 17.2 points and 10.5 rebounds in this postseason.
There's also the "mid-major" factor for the Sky that makes people pull for them. Two of their starters -- Tamera Young (James Madison) and Elena Delle Donne (Delaware) -- played their college ball in the Colonial Athletic Association. Another starter, Gonzaga legend Courtney Vandersloot, played in the West Coast Conference. Reserve guard Jamierra Faulkner is a rookie out of Southern Mississippi in the amorphous Conference USA.
There's the "won't give up" factor with guard Allie Quigley, who is playing for her fifth WNBA franchise, and forward Jessica Breland, who's playing for her fourth. They both know all too well the sting of getting cut and then regrouping and looking for another chance. We celebrate their resilience.
5. How big a factor will Delle Donne be?
The Sky were able to pull out their East finals Game 3 victory at Indiana even though Delle Donne spent the fourth quarter on the bench with the back issue that has bothered her during the postseason. But the Sky need to have her on the floor as much as possible against the Mercury.
Delle Donne, simply stated, is one of those players people love to watch because her offensive skills are so refined and varied. She's averaging 17.3 points during the playoffs. And while she's not known yet for her defense as a pro player, she has made some important defensive plays this postseason for the Sky.
She was hurting a lot throughout the Sky's Game 2 double-overtime victory against Indiana. But she had three blocked shots and three rebounds in a game that was so close -- the Sky won 86-84 to keep their season alive -- that every possession made a difference.
It's been a tough season physically for Delle Donne, who missed most of June and July dealing with the recurrence of Lyme disease and its lingering effects. But even Delle Donne at less-than-full-capacity is a big weapon.