WNBA icons send each other packing in Round Two
(Sean Carroll illustration)
Las Vegas Aces vs Seattle Storm
The Seattle Storm started this series on a run and an exceptional opening period from Aussie Stephanie Talbot who had Gabby Williams-sized shoes to fill. After a slow first quarter from the Las Vegas Aces, perhaps ill-prepared for such a quality opponent after their first-round breeze against the Phoenix Mercury, they sharpened up in the second. They may not have made much progress on the scoreboard but they had Storm fans worldwide clenching (trust me).
Seattle went A’ja hunting in the second quarter as Becky Hammon decided to keep her star in early with two fouls and her star shone brightly. A by-product of this was taking the Storm away from what gave them success in the first quarter. Aside from Chelsea Gray’s hit list, there weren’t too many positives to come out of the Aces game in the first half. She’s the crème de la crème when it comes to the hesi-pull-up-jimbo, she doesn’t care who’s guarding her, that midi is going up and it’s going down.
Into the locker room we go for halftime and the referees have a refreshed agenda coming out of it. Phantom call after phantom call took the players and the fans out of it for a little bit there but it did at the very least lead to a nice little back and forth between Sue Bird and Kelsey Plum who gave each other an earful (after they each gave the refs an earful). The Aces started to rally, led by Riquna Williams, Jackie Young and Gray. Stewie and Jewell Loyd were doing their best to absorb this blow while still maintaining some form of scoring while Bird clued on to the Aces run which led to a few touchdown breakaway hit ahead early layups outside of the flow of the game.
Las Vegas was firmly in control of the game going into the fourth, with little help from A’ja and Plum, which definitely makes you think they’re going to win Game 2 by themselves, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
The final quarter saw the Aces take their first lead of Game 1 which was extremely unsettling for me. Most of the final term was an arm wrestle but Las Vegas just couldn’t pull away. Run The Jewel(l)s; iso for Loyd and let’s watch her take it home. You know that meme where it shows the accelerator and the brake and then the clutch and they put a sportsperson’s face on the clutch? Yeah, someone make that for Jewell Loyd. Her herculean finish brought us to 1-0 up, on the road no less.
Kelsey Plum finish between the trees, A’ja with the midi and Chelsea with the contested iso jimmy was the exact response the Aces needed coming out of Game 1 and into Game 2. The Storm were hanging with the Aces, with the score at 11-11 before the first time out.
The early feel in this one is that Vegas is going to win, hell, it was even the feel coming out of Game 1. A 10-0 Storm surge nearing the end of the first quarter led to a seven-point Seattle lead and I must have been raised by Dante’s mother because I am bursting at the seams with caution.
Gray comes back into the game a touch after the second quarter started and the energy of this game shifted cosmically. They had the Storm linking desperate possession after desperate possession while they slowly chipped away at the deficit. Late in the third quarter and A’ja hits a heavily contested three serving as a gut punch going into the break but you have to live with that.
What you can’t live with is a shameful turnover on the inbound after the three, giving up a layup and allowing the Aces to bump that lead up to eight before the horn. The fourth quarter sees more of the same in this game; yes A’ja and Kelsey are producing, but Chelsea is hands down the Aces’ best player. A second instant classic in a row from these two teams has come down to the wire again, this time in favour of the home team. We head to Seattle tied 1-1.
I watched this game the other day and didn’t make any notes while watching it but this game, and this series, will be tattooed in my mind forever. Coming out the gates the Storm could be mistaken for a blizzard. The Aces went up 18-7 early, an 11-point gap that was only shortened to eight by halftime. A mixture of poise, execution and presence from the Aces was contrasted by Seattle’s first half, especially their first quarter.
What can only be described as a shameful start to the game was matched only by Las Vegas’ start to the second half. Seattle came out with purpose and a survival-like attitude, executing at an above-average clip but nothing close to excellent. The Aces looked like they were taking a quick five which is a really bad decision considering that’s a really big chunk of a basketball game, especially a playoff game. There was no rhyme or reason for the Storm to take the lead at 60-58 and this was a cause for concern as there were many opportunities for Vegas to end this game early.
Fast forward to the final 11 seconds after a Las Vegas time out and my asshole had been puckered since midway through the third and this game was even tighter.
Riquna Williams launches a treble that bottoms to cut the deficit to one; 88-89. Tina Charles is substituted into the game with eight seconds remaining, her first minutes since the third quarter, she’s coming in with no rhythm and she draws a foul leading to two free throws. I may have already shown my hand, but in case you didn’t make the inference, she misses both free throws. Aces rebound and call time out with six seconds remaining. They execute which leads to an A’ja layup putting them up 90-89 with the game clock starting with a ‘two’ and ending with a ‘seconds.’ Game over, Aces win. We run an inbound play and OH MY GOD SUE BIRD HITS A THREE IN THE LEFT CORNER, 90-92. GAME OVER, STORM WIN! 1.6 seconds on the clock and we come out of the Las Vegas time out and Jackie Young hits a layup to tie it at 92 at the end of regulation. Game’s not over? How? It was over like a million times within the last three seconds? The momentum of that Young layup was monumental, the Aces sprinted over the Storm in OT, resulting in a 12-point win. 2-1 Aces.
I watched this game yesterday and judging by my previous game recap I think you can tell what that means. Stewie was otherworldly in this game, deep in her bag with a WNBA playoff record for points in a first half at 26 on 9/12 shooting and 5/5 from the land of plenty, she would finish with 42.
Jewell Loyd has entered the chat with 29 points and a confidence that Storm fans became familiar with throughout the past two seasons but hadn’t seen the past two games. On the eve of the world finding out about her MVP, A’ja put up 23 and 13. Kelsey Plum looked like herself again with 15 points on good efficiency and Jackie Young had 18 points on six, wait lemme check that again, yep, on six field goal attempts. Now that all that’s out of the way, Chelsea Gray is the best basketball player in the world right now, putting up 31-6-10 on 13/22 shooting. I don’t know who took stats for this game but they fucked up because she didn’t miss once. Go back, check the footage and correct your error.
Okay, okay, okay, now that all that’s out of the way, Sue Bird. Not only basketball royalty, but a basketball icon. A stalwart for the league and a lock for anyone’s WNBA Mount Rushmore. For the playoffs, with the pressure at its highest, she had 38 assists and two turnovers going into her last game, which is an even 19.0 assist to turnover ratio. She straight up didn’t miss a free throw in 2022. She ended her career on her terms.
The Las Vegas Aces are 2022 WNBA Finalists and they had to go through Sue Bird first.
Chicago Sky vs Connecticut Sun
Game 1 started out slow and this pace was to be kept throughout the ball game. Like two heavyweights exchanging slugs, neither team was able to pull away and neither team was going away. Although neither team seemed to be playing their brand of basketball, they were able to lay haymakers as well as absorb them.
Kahleah Copper and Courtney Williams were tied up with 4:53 remaining in the ball game, with the Chicago Sky holding a one-point lead. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and maybe this is what mamba mentality is (take notes Devin Booker and Jayson Tatum you spineless cringelords) but neither player was willing to give up the ball, resulting in a double technical. This served as a poetic illustration of what this game was and every Sky and Connecticut Sun player displayed a grittiness that was reflected in the nature of the bout.
Game 1 demanded supreme toughness from every participant, anything short would’ve left a player at the end of the bench. Candace Parker was by far and away the player of the game with a ridiculous 19-18-5-6-4 statline, while also anchoring a defence that held Jonquel Jones to eight field goal attempts and one trip to the charity stripe, but it wasn’t enough. This one went the distance with Connecticut coming away with the victory by unanimous decision.
I tuned into Game 2 at the start of the fourth quarter (as I said in the Round One roundup, cut me some slack) and this one felt as though it was game over. All that was left to play in the fourth quarter were the games within the game. Natisha Heideman was rewarded with a tech for her push against Kahleah Copper when the game was already decided. Both players involved responded to this perfectly; Copper hit her freebies and Heideman banged a three on the next Connecticut possession.
A white-hot Jonquel Jones finished this game with 10/17 shooting and 23 points, neither of which are career highs, heck, they’re within one standard deviation from the mean, but she was able to get into a rhythm. This could feel like a win going into Game 3, especially after her Game 1 performance.
To Connecticut we go tied at 1-1. More of the same to start this one, scores were tied 18-18 with zero seconds to go in the first but after a DeWanna Bonner prayer we head into the second quarter with a three-point Sun lead. Both teams have done a terrific job of taking away the fast break from their opponents and each team’s half-court defence has been stingy, to say the least.
Both of these things breed a physical brand of basketball and both rosters, as was made abundantly clear in the first two games, have tough players who are prepared for the physicality. Late in the first half the Sun found a six-point lead, up 38-32. Six-point leads are hard to come by in this series and should be a good enough buffer for at least ten minutes, but after an ugly sequence of possessions on both ends of the court the Sky found two three-pointers that went unanswered (3+3=6 and then on the other end 0+0=0 so scores should be even) evening up the scores at 38.
“I don’t really know how that happened” has been the quote of this series and the willpower of these outfits is preparing each team extremely well for the next round. The third quarter saw an early run for the Sky being matched by a late run by the Sun and sending us into the fourth with a point the difference. This series has no weak links and few system breakdowns, it’s an interesting watch for anyone who likes basketball or winning. I hate to report the same thing for the fourth quarter, but it was another back-and-forth affair. Chicago won but a couple of different bounces of the ball and this could have been Connecticut’s game. Although it’s a 2-1 series, the Sun shouldn’t be discouraged, they were around the corner of a win all night.
Connecticut came out of the gates with a renewed purpose in Game 4 and an understanding of what a loss would do to their season. They put this game away early, shading Game 2 but this time in their favour. I’ll keep this one short because we have a Game 5 to talk about. Before we get there however, each team has both a wire-to-wire victory and a close victory under their belt. There’s nothing more to learn about their opponents, it’s just about who’s going to produce in a win-or-go-home Game 5.
Connecticut kept that same energy from Game 4 to begin this one, going up 24-15 in the first quarter. This lead would be broken and owned by Chicago in the second quarter but matched at the horn by the Sun to go into the half tied at 40 and no closer to finding a sparring partner for the Aces. An 18-8 third quarter in favour of the Sky continued a pace that was set in the second quarter and maintained well into the fourth.
Chicago was up 63-54 with less than four minutes remaining in the series, a 48-30 turnaround since that nine-point lead the Sun had in the first and it certainly felt like that.
After some chirpiness between DeWanna Bonner and, you guessed it, Kahleah Copper, there was a refreshed mood in the Wintrust Arena, scores at 63-57, clock at 3:46. The Sky’s mo; no one’s scoring for the rest of the night, the Sun’s mo; our season isn’t ending tonight.
I understand the Sky’s approach to the end of the game, but 63 points is not anywhere near a high enough score to protect, especially with four minutes left in a basketball game (it’s more like four hours though laughing crying face emoji). Also, if you go away from scoring completely and only make the game a defensive one, your score might get matched and you might have taken yourself out of an offensive rhythm, let’s see how it goes shall we?
After the chirpiness I’ve got Sky miss, Sun make, 63-59. Next I’ve got Sky miss, Sun free throws, 2/2, 63-61. Next I’ve got Sky miss, Sun make, 63-63. Boy, that was quick, let’s see what happens from here. Next I’ve got Sky miss, Sun convert and-1, 63-66. Hmm. Next I’ve got Sky miss, Sun turnover, Sky turnover, Sun make, 63-68 and the remaining 47.5 seconds is a formality.
From that 63-54 Chicago lead with a touch under four minutes remaining, Connecticut scored 18 unanswered. Your 2022 WNBA Finalists; the Connecticut Sun.