This year’s WNBA Playoffs have opened up in dramatic fashion. The single-elimination bracket for the first two rounds teased towards a spectacular show with a surplus of drama, and this past week, it delivered.
First round proceedings got underway with the #5 Phoenix Mercury squaring off against the #8 New York Liberty, while the #6 Chicago Sky took on the #7 Dallas Wings. The #3 Minnesota Lynx and the #4 Seattle Storm awaited the two winners in the second round, with the winner of those single-knockout matches moving to the semi-finals to meet the #1 Connecticut Sun and #2 Las Vegas Aces in a pair of best-of-5 series to determine the finalists.
As of today, the field has been shrunk to four; but in this round 1 & 2 recap we will take a look at all of the playoff matchups and the roadmap to where we are now, especially in regards to the two teams in the playoff field that have Canadian content on their roster.
The first round contained two thrilling single-elimination matchups including Canadian Kia Nurse taking the court with her Phoenix Mercury.
#5 Phoenix Mercury vs #8 New York Liberty
The opening-round tilt between the Mercury and Liberty in Phoenix this past Thursday was nothing short of a classic. The Mercury walked away with a 83-82 victory following a late-game free-throw make by Brianna Turner. Superstar Sabrina Ionescu had a desperation chance to win it at the buzzer for New York, but came up short.
Heading into the game it was obvious that the Mercury had the deeper roster, but the Liberty put up an outstanding fight considering their shaky regular season. In the end, the star power of Phoenix was too much for the Liberty to handle.
Skylar Diggins-Smith finished with 22 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists, while Britney Griner scored 16 alongside 10 rebounds. Sophie Cunningham had an incredible 6/7 three-point night off of the bench, giving her a crucial 21 points on the evening. Canadian Kia Nurse played a solid game, scoring 8 points on 3/9 shooting and collecting 6 rebounds.
It wasn’t a perfect game by the Mercury, but it was enough to advance them to the second round where they would travel on the road to take on the #4 Seattle Storm in another win-or-go-home scenario.
#6 Chicago Sky vs #7 Dallas Wings
Unlike the previous first round matchup, there was little to no drama towards the end of the Sky’s and Wings’ first round clash this past Thursday, where Chicago dominated by a score of 81-64.
The Sky came out firing in the first frame and never looked back, stretching their lead out further in nearly every subsequent quarter. After a Wings rally in the third, the Sky shut things down quickly, outscoring the Wings 26-14 in the final period, putting things well out of reach.
Kahleah Cooper led the way for Chicago with 23 points on an efficient 10/14 shooting, but it was Candace Parker who stole the show. The all-time great finished with 11 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists in what was an all-around masterclass that could have easily turned into a triple-double. The Wings were led by 22 from Arike Ogunbowale, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the hole that they dug for themselves early on.
The win for Chicago sent a statement to the league and provided them with extra confidence, which they would need in the next round against an extremely hot and prepared #3 Minnesota Lynx team.
After reseeding the remaining teams, the #3 Lynx and #6 Sky faced off on one side of the bracket, while the #4 Storm and #5 Mercury battled it out on the same night.
#3 Minnesota Lynx vs #6 Chicago Sky
The Sky were looking for a major upset this past Sunday heading into Minnesota and that was exactly what they got. Not only did they keep it close, but they dominated the Lynx for large stretches of the game and it showed up on the scoreboard, eventually walking away with an 89-76 win to send them into the semi-finals.
The Lynx looked to be heavy favourites heading in, and they held a 1-point lead after the first frame. From that point on though, the Sky found the gas pedal and never looked back, winning every quarter the rest of the way for a double-digit margin of victory by the end.
Chicago was lifted by a second straight dominant performance by Courtney Vandersloot, who this time was in the starting lineup. Vandersloot scored 19 points on 8/13 shooting to go with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. It was a near-perfect performance, with 4 others scoring in double figures as well. The offensive attack was balanced, unlike the Lynx who were only able to get scoring from a few players. Aerial Powers led the Lynx with 24, while Kayla McBride dropped 19 points and 7 rebounds. For the Canadians on Minnesota, Bridget Carleton didn’t score but finished with 2 assists in 14 minutes of action, while Natalie Achonwa scored 4 points and snagged 2 rebounds in her limited playing time.
The early exit for Minnesota may have come as a surprise to those around the team, and is especially difficult for Canadian basketball fans who were hoping to see a few Canadian nationals make a deep playoff run. It could be labeled as a choke for the Lynx, but it should instead be remembered as a big victory for the Sky, who were the better team on the day, plain and simple.
#4 Seattle Storm vs #5 Phoenix Mercury
The other second round matchup was far more dramatic, with the Phoenix Mercury playing in their second straight playoff game that went down to the wire. Despite being a slight underdog, the Mercury went into Seattle and won 85-80 in an overtime thriller this past Sunday.
The Mercury received a big boost pre-game before this one, as Diana Taurasi returned to the lineup after missing five games, and was massive down the stretch with multiple clutch buckets. On the other hand, Seattle was without star Breanna Stewart giving them serious issues in terms of late-game shot-making with their biggest name gone.
The entire Mercury starting 5 scored in double figures, as Brittney Griner led the way with an impressive 23-point 16-rebound double-double that also included 4 assists and a steal. Canadian Kia Nurse played another good game, finishing with 12 points and 4 rebounds in a patient, efficient performance.
The worry all year for Phoenix was how their star power would mesh, and it seems as if those questions have been answered. Everyone has played their own role, especially the Canadian Nurse, who has had to experience a step back in work load from her time in New York. The #5 seed may be misleading when it comes to the Mercury; they are a serious contender for a title moving forward into the semi-final round.
With the first two rounds in the books, the two best-of-five semi-finals series were determined after reseeding the remaining four teams. The frontrunning #1 Connecticut Sun take on the #6 Sky in what would be a shock upset could Chicago finish the race to three wins first. On the other side of the bracket, the #2 Las Vegas Aces take on the #5 Mercury in what could be a series destined to go the distance.
The fun in this year’s WNBA postseason has just begun, with semi-final action kicking off this Tuesday.