The 2021 Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) Finals are set after the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury came through their respective semi-finals to set up a thrilling best-of-five title decider.
Here is everything you need to know about the WNBA Finals, including the series schedule, key players to watch, and more.
The Sky & Mercury's path to the WNBA Finals
The Chicago Sky limped into the WNBA postseason off the back of a lacklustre regular season campaign that saw them finish with a 16-16 record; good enough for the No.6 seed (out of eight). Chicago's form was so inconsistent coming into the playoffs that plenty of questions were being asked over whether they would be able to advance from their first single-elimination game against the No.7-seeded Dallas Wings.
However, a rousing 81-64 victory over the Wings coupled to a 89-76 win over No.3-seeded Minnesota Linx in the second round banished any more talk of Chicago not belonging in the playoffs.
Still, the Sky faced a daunting task in the semi-finals in the form of a fresh Connecticut Sun team that finished the regular season with a 14-game win streak to earn the No.1 seed and an automatic bye to the semi-finals.
But thanks to the exceptional play of double Olympic gold medallist Candace Parker (22 points, five rebounds, six assists) and Courtney Vandersloot (12 points, 10 rebounds, 18 assists), the Sky upset the Sun 101-95 in Game 1 of the best-of-five series.
That victory set the tone for the rest of the series as Chicago would go on to win two of the next three games to knock out Connecticut (breaking a streak of the No.1 seeds making the Finals in the past five years) and advance to only their second WNBA Finals in the franchise's 16-year history.
The Mercury fared slightly better than the Sky during the regular season, accruing a 19-13 record. Yet for a team that boasts the supreme talents of Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner on the roster, the Mercury's fifth-seed status for the playoffs seemed underwhelming.
Phoenix barely escaped from the first round, beating the eight-seed New York Liberty 83-82 in the single-elimination contest. However, the Mercury knew they'd have a much tougher challenge in the second round as they faced the reigning champion Seattle Storm, and upper their play accordingly, earning a thrilling 85-80 victory in overtime to advance to the semi-finals.
But the task wouldn't get any easier for coach Sandy Brondello's team; the 2020 finalists and No.2 seed Las Vegas Aces were patiently waiting for their opponents to reach the semi-finals, and took care of business in Game 1 of the best-of-five series, winning 96-90.
However, the Mercury would once again find another level to their play, winning the next two games before the Aces won Game 4 to set up the deciding clash on Friday (8 October).
Buoyed by a sold-out home crowd, the Mercury - led by Taurasi's 24 points and Griner's 28 points and nine rebounds - completed their series win with an 87-84 victory to progress to the Finals since 2014, where they will have the chance to win their fourth WNBA championship.
Key players to watch
The Sky's acquisition of Parker - who won gold with Team USA at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games - was arguably the biggest signing of the WNBA's offseason, as the 2016 WNBA champion, Finals MVP and two-time league MVP has brought an elite level of leadership and veteran play (13.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists per game) to a Chicago squad seeking their first-ever title.
She has been supported by point guard Vandersloot and forward Kahleah Copper, both of whom have taken their game to new levels during the Sky's postseason run; Vandersloot is averaging 8.7 assists and 14.0 points per game on 50 percent shooting during the playoffs, while Copper is leading the team with 18.2 points per contest.
The Mercury can count two of the most successful and talented players in all of women's basketball on their roster.
Taurasi is one of only two people in history to have won five Olympic gold medals in basketball (the other being the Seattle Storm's Sue Bird), and also holds the accolade of being the WNBA's all-time top scorer; not to mention her three WNBA titles, two Finals MVP and one league MVP awards.
Taurasi won gold alongside Griner at the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and the latter has evolved into one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the WNBA, winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards to go along with two scoring titles, seven All-Star selections and a WNBA championship in 2014.
WNBA Finals schedule
The WNBA Finals is a best-of-five series, with Game 1 scheduled to tip-off at 3pm EST (USA).
Game 1 - Oct. 10
Game 2 - Oct. 13
Game 3 - Oct. 15
Game 4 - Oct. 17 (If necessary)
Game 5 - Oct. 19 *_(If necessary)_