Two teams enter. One team leaves. The other team leaves also, but they go home or go on vacation with their family or start preparing for the European season or something. It’s the WNBA playoffs, and for the first two rounds, it’s a single elimination, winner-takes-all bloodbath. In case you missed the first round of single elimination games, here’s a quick recap of the action from Wednesday, and some predictions for Sunday’s slate of second round match-ups.
The Playoff Format
The WNBA adopted a new format for their playoffs a few seasons ago, and it bears explaining it for anyone who’s only recently begun following the league. Under the current playoff format, the teams with the top eight regular season records qualify for the playoffs, and are seeded one through eight with no regard to conferences. The top four seeds receive buys through the first round, while the top two seeds don’t play until the semi-finals. The first two rounds of the playoffs are single elimination; the fifth seed plays the eighth seed while sixth seed goes up against the seventh in the first round. In the second round, the highest seeded team to win in the first round plays the fourth seed, as the other remaining team plays the third, and so on. The Finals and Semifinals are both best-of-5 series, with the first team to win three games winning the series.
The Surging Chicago Sky (5) Rout An Injury-Addled Phoenix Mercury (8)
The playoffs kicked off this year with the Chicago Sky stealing the Phoenix Mercury’s lunch money and pushing them into the mud. Led by 25 points from second year star Diamond Deshields, who looked hungry for buckets all game, the Sky blew the Mercury out for the second time in two weeks, outscoring them 105-76 to eliminate the Mercury from the playoffs. A disappointing finish for a Mercury team that last season came one game away from stealing the eventual champion Seattle Storm’s place in the Finals. Unfortunately, injuries to Mercury legends Diana Tarurasi, who did not appear in Wednesday’s loss after playing only 6 games this year, and Brittney Griner, who went down early in the second quarter with a knee injury, doomed this squad to an early exit from the playoffs. This game showcased everything the Chicago Sky do well, between Courtney Vandersloot’s 11 assists, a crushing rebounding edge, and an outstanding all around game from Diamond DeShields. Shout out to Mercury forward Dewanna Bonner for doing her best impression of a wrecking ball on offense when her team needed it most.
Notable Stat Lines
Diamond DeShields (CHI) – 25 pts, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal on 10-19 shooting
Courtney Vandersloot (CHI) – 9 pts, 11 assists, 2 blocks
DeWanna Bonner (PHX) – 21 pts, 6 rebounds, 2-3 from deep, 9-10 from the free throw line
The Seattle Storm (6) Best the Minnesota Lynx (7) In Clash of Champions
The Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx entered Wednesday’s matchups finding themselves in similar situations. The WNBA’s last two champions both entered the season missing significant star power; Maya Moore of the Lynx is on an indefinite sabbatical from basketball, while the Storm’s Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird have missed the season with injuries. Both squads, despite this, found themselves in the playoffs, largely due to fresh faces stepping up when their teams needed them; such as in this first round match up. This game served as a microcosm for the break out seasons Jordin Canada of the Storm and Napheesa Collier of the Lynx have had. Collier, one of the front runners for Rookie of the Year, had an outstanding game, pouring in 19 points in a double-double with 10 rebounds. But there was only so much the highly efficient Phee could do, as her team fell 74-84 to the Seattle Storm lead by a commanding performance by Jordin Canada, whose had the best season of her career stepping into the starting point guard role with Sue Bird out. Canada spent the game hunting for points, crossing her opponents up and taking them off the dribble to create space for easy lay-ups. Canada dropped 26 points, more than enough to make up for an off scoring night from teammate and Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard.
Notable Stat Lines:
Napheesa Collier (MIN) – 19 pts, 10 reb, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block on 8-11 shooting.
Jordin Canada (SEA) – 26 pts, 4 reb, 3 assists, 2 steals on 10-21 shooting
Jewell Lloyd (SEA) – 22 pts, 3 assists, 3 steals, 3-4 from deep, 7-8 from the line
Round 2 Predictions
Seattle Storm @ Los Angeles Sparks (3pm eastern)
The Seattle Storm continue their playoffs at the Staples Center this Sunday, taking on the Los Angeles Sparks at home. While the Storm have exceeded expectations all season, and anything can happen in a single elimination playoff game, it’s hard for me to not call this one for the Sparks. Obviously, with the Storms best offensive weapons in Stewart and Bird missing, the Sparks have a clear edge on that end of the floor with their stars Chelsea Gray, Nneka Ogwumike, and Candace Parker–who, having struggled with injury this season, looks more or less back to her superstar self. The Storm have prided themselves on their defensive presence all season, and there’s no doubt that Natasha Howard will be the best individual defensive player in this series. However, LA’s defense is nothing to sneeze at, and they actually allowed slightly fewer points per 100 possessions than the Storm did this regular season.
Chicago Sky @ Las Vegas Aces (5pm eastern)
The star-studded Aces entered this season as heavy title favorites, armed with reigning Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson, guard Kayla McBride, and offensive dynamo Liz Cambage, trades for right before the beginning of the season. Vegas has fallen a bit short of their lofty goals of dominance, as their stars learn how to play together in one system. On the contrary, the Sky missed the playoffs entirely last season and, entering the summer with largely the same roster, were expected to do the same this year; they’ve blown these expectations out of the water to become one of the league’s most elite offensive teams. This is definitely going to be one of the more thrilling match-ups of the playoffs, it’s a shame that it’s happening now in single elimination, I would be so down to watch these teams go at it in a best of 5 series. It’s hard to choose a winner here, but I think the Aces are gonna edge out the Sky unless Chicago can really pull their defense in the post together. The Sky allowed the most points in the paint of any team in the league this season, and the Aces just happen to have two absolutely freaks in the post in Wilson and Cambage. The X-factor for the Sky here is their frontcourt rotation of Stefanie Dolson, Cheyenne Parker, and Astou Ndour. The three of them are fierce competitors, but they’re going to have to give their all on the less glamorous end of the floor to give the Sky a chance at advancing to the Semifinals.
All stats taken from Basketball-Reference, ESPN, or stats.wnba.com, unless otherwise noted. For definitions of advanced stats, check out Basketball-Reference’s glossary.
Dani Bar-Lavi is a comedian, writer, and guest contributor to SportsAreFromVenus. You can find them on Twitter @dblfluidity.