Top-end teams too tough in Round One of the WNBA Playoffs
(Sean Carroll illustration)
All eight teams proved why we should have been doing this all along. In case you missed out (and trust me, you missed out) on the action, I kept a diary that you can only read if you know the password. Lucky for you, I'm willing to share the password. It's _Leav3LizAlon3 (case sensitive).
Chicago Sky vs New York Liberty
What a way to start the playoffs. The first quarter of Game 1 saw the New York Liberty dictate the pace but the Chicago Sky had the scoreboard.
I thought this was enough of a win for the Liberty, but they had other ideas in mind as they kept at them, chipping away and chipping away.
In a game of high-profile players, the individual brilliance of Sabrina Ionescu and Allie Quigley shone above the rest. That pass from Marine Johannès when the Liberty were down six points with 3:30 left in the fourth signified the beginning of the end for the Sky. In fact, Chicago wouldn’t score for the rest of the game. I could not believe the Liberty were up 1-0, you gotta be happy for them.
Coming out the gates in Game 2, we saw a pace from the Sky that you would assume would favour the Liberty but was undoubtedly controlled by Chicago. 31-10 to finish the quarter in favour of the Sky and that’s all we needed to see. They re-established why everyone else needs to be worried about them and reminded everyone that they were WNBA champions a season ago. New York’s inexperience and lack of composure were omnipresent in Game 2 which resulted in a 38-point loss.
And then there was Game 3 where it saw Marine Johannès get her first start in over a month. With three three-pointers and a pair of crispy dimes, she not only got the Barc’ bumpin’ but she was the main reason the Liberty were keeping this game tight.
However, the Sky were doing Sky things, maintaining a comfortable cushion throughout this whole game. They were making the game boring in the best way possible in certain stretches: connecting stops and baskets that looked like they were straight out of a training drill. It was a great sign for a championship contender and a horrible sign for opposing teams.
Early in the fourth quarter and Sabrina the Teenage Ionescu had one of the silliest highlights I’ve ever seen: an and-one on the layup, missed free throw, offensive rebound on her own free throw, dribble out and cashing in on a triple, cuts the game to five points, Sky timeout.
This had a similar feel to Johannès’ pass and a potential momentum swing, how would Chicago respond this time? A missed shot and allowing a score on the other end, bringing the game to within three, uh oh. How will this game finish? Who’s going into the second round? The game was completely in the balance until Chicago decided to go on a 16-0 run. Series over.
Las Vegas Aces vs Phoenix Mercury
No Skylar Diggins-Smith, no Diana Taurasi and (obviously) no Brittney Griner. You would presume this Phoenix Mercury outfit was cactus, but don’t presume, okay, because then you make a pres out of ume and e.
Diamond DeShields came out of the gates sizzling in Game 1. The Las Vegas Aces papered her up and slowed the game down so it was time for someone else to step up. Shey Peddy had two clutch threes on back-to-back possessions halfway through the second quarter to cut the deficit from 11 points to five. It’s hard to know how this game would have looked for the Mercury without those baskets.
Into the fourth and the game is calling for someone to win it. Attention: Megan Gustafson; let a sleeping dog lay. After your flagrant foul on Chelsea Gray, she hit both of her free throws (and you got subbed out between them), she hit a three just seven seconds after the freebies and the next play down, she had a hesi pull up jimbo that would serve as the first dagger and initiate the inevitable.
The Aces experience was too much in this game; stopping the hot hand, controlling the tempo, working the refs. It was clinical. They turned a valiant effort from their opponent into a 16-point win. 1-0 Aces.
Game 2 saw a WNBA record eight threes from the Aces in the first quarter (on ten attempts, no less) and a 34-30 lead to go into the quarter break. The three-point pace slowed in the second quarter but the Aces still broke the WNBA record for threes in a half with 11.
They finished the game with a WNBA record of 23 made which means they connected on 12 threes in the second half and 12 is more than 11. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure they broke the WNBA record for threes in a half twice in the same game.
Becky Hammon has her troops in order and ready to go for the next round, they’re executing and producing offensively and they’re suffocating defensively.
Connecticut Sun vs Dallas Wings
Here’s a short one for ya. The Connecticut Sun took care of business and they shut down Teaira McCowan. One good sign for the Dallas Wings; they kept their energy and spirits up even in such a lopsided game. That’s a good indicator of a good team.
That spirit was maintained to start Game 2. A 22-7 lead for the Wings at the end of the first quarter was exactly the kind of bounce back a team needed, especially on the road. Kayla Thornton splashed on all three of her first three-pointers in this game, keeping and extending the buffer for Dallas.
Connecticut started the second quarter in complete control of the pace. They were steady and they valued every possession. Dallas’ job was to absorb this blow and they did just that. The effects of that spirit to end Game 1 were being felt in the first half of this one.
There was a crucial patch with around five minutes to go in the half, where the Sun forced a Marina Mabrey turnover in which she missed everything on a late clock pass getting the crowd into the game. The Sun could have cut the lead to 33-23 with a layup but they threw it away resulting in a 35-21 score.
With three minutes and two seconds left in the half, the Wings were up 40-23 and countless ‘what if’s’ for the Wings to extend their lead to 16 after that second quarter by the Sun, then the second half didn’t look too hopeful for Connecticut. A crispy dime from Allisha Gray to Isabelle Harrison with a touch over 6 minutes to go in the third and a 21-point Wings lead was all we needed to see, we’re goin to Dallas.
Side note: before we get to Game 3, Jonquel Jones has had a stellar start to the playoffs. After a massive drop in numbers during the 2022 regular season and a very disappointing 2021 playoff run, she had a lot of questions going into the 2022 playoffs. Through two games, she has answered all these questions and is easily the best player in this series.
A quarter through Game 3 and neither team is giving an inch. Dallas is hounding Jonquel Jones, sending her to the first break with a doughnut in her points column. More intensity going into the second quarter and with 6:47 left in the half the Wings draw a third foul on JJ, scores tied at C.J. Watson’s number in 2009. Every possession feels like it’s each team's last which is exactly what you want as a fan going into a win-or-go-home game. This deadlock cannot, has not, will not be broken. We head into the half tied at Wenyen Gabriel’s number when he played for the Brooklyn Nets.
The second half couldn’t have been more different to the first half of this game. We had a classic on our hands then the Sun ran away with it. Possessions were the story of the second half, with Connecticut outrebounding and stripping the Wings countless times. This was reflected in the attempts for each team, with the Sun attempting seven more free throws and a whopping 21 more field goals than Dallas. Connecticut has a tough round ahead as they make their way to Chicago.
Seattle Storm vs Washington Mystics
Elena Delle Donne threw the first punch with her contested fadeaway on the first possession of the ball game and it looked like the Washington Mystics were in control early, until Gabby Williams had something to say about it. Two quick steals as well as a block that looked more like a steal after she suppressed Natasha Cloud’s shot, not to mention her three boards, one of which was offensive. She showed everyone on the court that they weren’t going to outwork her and the Storm maintained the energy she set until the last couple of minutes of the half when EDD went on a mini-run to get her team the lead going into the half.
An arm wrestle in the third quarter acted as a prologue for a classic finish. EDD has been a display of superstardom this game, sustaining brilliance all night, and that remained unchanged throughout the fourth quarter. I don’t know how we left that game up 1-0 by my heart was officially in my throat. Jesus fuck.
I tuned into Game 2 halfway through the third quarter (it was 7:20am on a Monday morning cut me some slack for fucks sake). The last quarter and a half saw Stewie being an MVP and Sue Bird demonstrating, yet again, why she is on everyone’s Mount Rushmore.
A steal and breakaway layup followed by a three-pointer a few possessions later put this game away for the Storm. A team that boasts the scoring likes of Tina Charles, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart and the 41-year-old is putting this game away. Not to sound like MJax or anything, but that’s greatness. Round 2, Las Vegas, here we come.