Now is as good of a time as any to get pumped. As the WNBA celebrates its 25th season, “the W” and its playoffs are more exciting than ever. The regular season ended a week ago with a blast, a jam packed first round went down on Friday, and the second round begins TODAY. We’re here for the action and storylines.
The W’s playoff format is open to upsets and surprises. The teams that earned the top two seeds, or had the two best records, during the regular season, the Connecticut Sun and the Las Vegas Aces, get to skip rounds one and two. The Minnesota Lynx and the Seattle Storm, who earned the third and fourth-best records got one bye round.
What makes the format so spicy is the first two rounds are decided by one game. The single-elimination rounds are a controversial and hotly debated topic in the WNBA universe, but no one denies it makes for must-watch basketball. Then, the third and final rounds are decided by a classic best of five (first to three wins) series. On Friday night, the Chicago Sky knocked out the Dallas Wings and the Phoenix Mercury squeaked past the New York Liberty by one point.
Minnesota Lynx (3 Seed, 22-10) vs. Chicago Sky (6th Seed, 16-16)
5:00pm ET on ESPN2
This is the Lynx 11th straight season in the playoffs. They finished this season 9-1 and are sleepers for championship contention. There big three of guard Kayla McBride, forward Napheesa Collier, center Sylvia Fowles were slow to click earlier in the season, but once they did, looked like they could make a deep playoff run.
Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles, at 35, is playing with an edge to her this season. In a game against the Seattle Storm, she dropped the most face melting stat line of 29 points, 20 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. Good coaching and hustle can take this team all the way.
The narrative of the Chicago Sky is that they are volatile and there is uncertainty about which Chicago Sky will show up. But the team had a solid second half of the season after center Candace Parker (who just got her own Chicago holiday) came back from missing 11 games due to injury. It will be up to Parker, the team’s leader, to set the tone for the rest of the team. At the end of the Sky’s round one win over the New York Liberty, Parker gave props to forward Kahleah Copper for her consistency through the season. She dropped 23 on Friday against the Wings and averaged 14.5 points per game this season.
Minnesota will also have to watch for three-point monster Allie Quigley and floor general Courtney Vandersloot, who have playoff experience.
The Sky are road dawgs. This season they were 10-6 in away games and 6-10 in their home Wintrust Arena. They are going to need their on-the-road luck in Minnesota, who are statistically better defensively at home.
The spotlight will be on the one-on-one matchup between centers Parker and Fowles. Parker, who has one championship ring will face the basket to use her quickness to score. Fowles, who has won four championships will keep her back to the basket and use her strength score.
Seattle Storm (#4, 21-11) vs. Pheonix Mercury (5 Seed, 19-13)
3:00pm ET on ABC
The Storm and Mercury have become something of a rivalry over the years. The Storm, the reigning champions and one of the W’s most historic franchises, are on track to get eliminated in a single game in the second round this year. If the single-elimination setup is working against any team, it is for the Storm. The team was already looking complacent towards the end of the season, then star forward Breonna Stewart sustained a foot injury.
Stewart, who was the third leading points per game scorer is one of the most dominant players in the W’s history, will be questionable for the second round. Point gawd Sue Bird and forward Jewell Loyd could potentially make an effective duo in the playoffs, but Loyd has not proven reliable. In Loyd’s final four games she scored 8 points on 3-12 shooting, 20 points, 5 points on 2-9 shooting, then an epic 37 points right on Skylar Diggins-Smith’s eye sockets. It is doubtful that competitive af Diggins-Smith will allow a night like that again in round two.
The Mercury are considered championship contenders if they can survive long enough for the legend point guard Diana Taurasi to come back healthy. After a cold first half of the season going 4-7 from June 8 to July 11 they came back from the Olympic break with some fire. Taurasi’s return from her hip injury made the team’s other stars, forward Skylar Diggins-Smith and center Brittney Griner’s jobs on the floor a lot easier. In the final fifteen games of the season, they had the best offense in the league. Taurasi is questionable for today’s game. Griner had an argument for the Most Valuable Player award. She was second in the league in points per game and first in blocked shots per game and seemed to be playing with extra oomph.
Third Round Teams
Connecticut Sun (1 Seed, 22-6)
When Biggie rapped “kick in the door waving the four-four,” he was talking about the 2021 Connecticut Sun season. The Sun have been dominant and have had statistically the best defense in the W by a longshot. All five of the Sun’s starters rank in the top six in defensive rating for players averaging at least 15 minutes per game. Sun personnel won all three Most Valuable Player (Jonquel Jones), Most Improved Player (Brionna Jones) and Coach of the year (Curt Miller) awards. Forwards Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner, and Brionna Jones all rank in the top 16 in scoring, rebounds and steals. The Sun are ridiculous.
Jonquel Jones earned her MVP award. She led the league in double doubles, was fourth in the W in points per game with 19.4 points and led the league in rebounds per game with 11.2 per game. She was also the leader of the Sun’s top defense.
Las Vegas Aces (2 Seed, 24-8)
The Aces are not statistically the best team like the Connecticut Sun, but they do have the most talented team. They ended the season with statistically the best offense and the second best defense. They have the twin towers in 6-8 center Liz Cambage and 6-4 forward A’ja Wilson who was 2020 season MVP and pivotal in the USA Olympic basketball team winning gold.
The Aces have two “supersubs” off the bench in guard Jackie Young and 6th Woman Player of the Year and Olympic 3×3 gold medal winning guard Kelsey Plum. They’ve proven to be able to takeover games off the bench through the season, including when Plum dropped 30 on the Wings on 9/13 after Jackie Young dropped 29 against the Lynx in their previous game.
Cambage has had an up and down season with injuries and a COVID-19 case. The double bye rounds will do well to make sure she has recovered and is ready to play.
What might lead to the Aces downfall in the playoffs is their lack of 3s. The Aces finished second in three-point percentage but second to last in total three points made. A’ja Wilson got opponents trembling at the beginning of the season when she said she added three-pointers to her skillset in the offseason. She went 1/1 in the first game of the season then never attempted a three again for the rest of the season.
Whatever style of game excites you from dunkers, sharpshooters, to passers, the W’s playoffs have it. Each one of the six remaining teams all have a legitimate shot to win it all. For anyone who enjoys the game of basketball or competition in general, now is the perfect time to tune in.