(Bradenton, FL) That is what WNBA Playoff basketball is all about. What we’ve witnessed up to this point, is that the regular season matchups don’t mean a whole lot. When the postseason comes around, it’s a whole different ball game. In the first round, the Phoenix Mercury won an incredibly tight game with a three-pointer at the buzzer to knock the defending champion Washington Mystics out of the playoffs. Then, in the second round, they lost a heartbreaker by one point to the Minnesota Lynx 80-79. We also saw the Connecticut Sun upset both the Chicago Sky and the LA Sparks after struggling through most of the regular season.
Seattle’s first playoff game took a bit longer to get started than expected. Game 1 of the Storm’s semi-final matchup against the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday was delayed due to inconclusive COVID19 tests by multiple Storm players. But it should come as no surprise that the Storm’s first playoff game was an absolute thriller with Seattle edging the Minnesota Lynx 88-86 on an Alysha Clark layup as time expired.
The game was nothing like Seattle’s two victories against the Lynx in the regular season where the Storm dispatched Minnesota rather easily by 24 and 15 points in those games. This game was tightly contested from start to finish. Minnesota led by as many as nine points in the first half, while Seattle led by as many as 10 points in the 2nd half. But with the game on the line in the final minutes, the lead changed hands on almost every possession.
While Alysha Clark will get a ton of the praise and she deserves all of it. It was Jewell Loyd who really led Seattle to victory in this one. Loyd was near perfect in this game leading the team in scoring with 25 points on 8-9 FG shooting (89%) including 4-5 from three-point range. Loyd did a little bit of everything. Beyond scoring, she had six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocked shots!
But it was really her 18 first-half points that were absolutely critical for Seattle. As mentioned, Seattle trailed by nine points in the first half. If it wasn’t for Loyd they likely would have been down by 15 points at half time. Especially, with Breanna Stewart struggling again with her shot.
Stewart still had a great game overall earning a double-double by scoring 21 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. She also had three assists, one steal, and one block. She was also 5-5 from the foul line. However, Stewart was much less efficient than Loyd scoring her 21 points on 7-20 field goal shooting (35%). And while Stewie came up big in the third quarter scoring 12 points and helping Seattle extend their lead to 10 points. She was held scoreless in the critical 4th quarter and was completely outplayed by Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier in the final period.
All five of Seattle’s starters scored in double figures in this game and it was a good thing they did because the bench gave them next to nothing outside of Jordin Canada. Natasha Howard also struggled from the floor shooting 3-9 FG (33%) while scoring ten points. Howard did knock down both of her three-point attempts which was nice to see.
The veteran point guard, Sue Bird, had a solid game with 11 points and eight assists. Including two huge triples in the 4th quarter with the game on the line. However, in an interesting defensive gameplan by the Storm, they put Small Forward Alysha Clark on Minnesota’s 5’ 5” point guard Crystal Dangerfield. With Jewell Loyd guarding Odyssey Sims, that left Sue Bird to guard 6’ 1” Bridget Carleton.
Carleton and the Lynx made Seattle pay for this. Carleton had arguably one of the greatest games in her WNBA career scoring 14 points on 5-8 shooting (63%) including 4-7 (57%) from long distance. Seattle did a poor job in the first half rotating defensively and left Carleton open too many times for wide-open triples. The Storm did make solid adjustments as Carleton was held scoreless in the 2nd half.
Ultimately, the defensive plan worked by putting the 5’ 11” Alysha Clark on the smaller Dangerfield. While Clark had 12 points including the game-winning basket. It was really her defense that stood out in this game. Clark, one of the league’s premier defensive players held Dangerfield to just four points on 2-8 FG shooting. AC locked up the 2020 Rookie of the Year and made her a total non-factor in 32 minutes of play. At one point, Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve benched Dangerfield for a few minutes just to send a message that she needed to be better. But Clark was relentless and did not let up hounding the smaller point guard all night long.
And while Seattle limited one of the Lynx’s top scorers in this game. They’ll need to make better defensive adjustments on Napheesa Collier who was an absolute superstar on Tuesday night. Collier led the Lynx with 25 points, 9 rebounds, three assists, and six blocked shots. She was also extremely clutch scoring 16 of her 25 points in the 2nd half with the game on the line.
In total, four of the Lynx starters scored in double figures. On top of Collier’s 25 points, Odyssey Sims had 19 points and five assists. Carleton had the 14 points all in the first half. And Damiris Dantas had 11 points including three shots from long range.
Around the W
In the other WNBA Semi-Finals playoff series, we saw the Connecticut Sun shock the world in Game 1 on Sunday by upsetting the #1 seed Las Vegas Aces by 25 points by a final score of 87-62. Jasmine Thomas set a new career-high with 31 points. While Alyssa Thomas added 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Natisha Hiedeman added 14 points off the bench including knocking down four three-pointers.
Las Vegas only had two players score in double figures with A’ja Wilson leading her team with 19 points and nine rebounds. Jackie Young had 17 points off the bench, but many of these points came after Connecticut had a 30 point lead in the 2nd half.
Connecticut shot the ball very well shooting 34-68 (50%) and 8-19 (42%) from beyond the arc. The Sun’s defense was also excellent holding the Aces to 23-68 (34%) and a pitiful 1-14 (7%) from three-point range.
It’s not surprising that the number one overall seed bounced back in Game 2. But the Connecticut Sun gave them everything they could handle. Connecticut actually led the majority of Game 2 despite losing Alyssa Thomas to a shoulder injury in the first quarter.
Connecticut led 23-21 in the first quarter and 39-38 at the half. The Sun had a strong third quarter outscoring the Aces 24-21 to take a four-point lead into the fourth quarter at 63-59. However, the Sun went cold at the wrong time, scoring just 12 points in the final period and shot just 35% (6-17).
With all that said, this game also went straight down to the wire. With just one minute to play, the game was tied 75-75. That’s when the 2020 MVP just dominated. It’s a big reason why A’ja Wilson won the award this season. When games were on the line, she absolutely delivered. And this game was beyond critical for Las Vegas. No WNBA team has gone down 2-0 and won three straight to win a playoff series. That’s what Las Vegas was facing if they dropped Game 2.
Wilson drove to the basket, got fouled, and laid the ball up, she completed the t
hree-point play to put Las Vegas up 78-75. Connecticut was called for an offensive foul on the next possession and Wilson drove to the hoop again and got fouled while making her layup for a second time. She missed that free throw but Dearica Hamby collected the missed shot and laid it back up and in the blink of an eye the Sun were down seven points 82-75 with 26 seconds left. DeWanna Bonner attempted a three-point but missed, Connecticut was forced to foul and the game was over.
Las Vegas tied the series up at 1-1 with an 83-75 victory. A’ja Wilson was the superstar of the game scoring 29 points, collecting seven rebounds, and seven blocked shots! The seven blocks tied a career-high. The Aces had four players score in double figures total with the other three players each scoring 11 points. Those players were Angel McCoughtry, Kayla Mcbridge, and Dearica Hamby. Danielle Robinson gave them nine points and Jackie Young gave them eight points off the bench.
The two former Phoenix Mercury players, DeWanna Bonner and Briann January led Connecticut in scoring. Bonner had 23 points and seven rebounds. While January had 20 points including 3-4 from three-point range. Brionna Jones and Jasmine Thomas were the other players to hit double digits with 10 points apiece.
Connecticut has to feel like they let one slip away. They played really well and had a legitimate chance to go up 2-0. Now they have to worry about the health of Alyssa Thomas. Thomas has already been playing with two torn labrums in her shoulders. So it’ll be interesting to see if she can return to action this series or if the damage was so severe that she’ll be done for the year.
For Las Vegas, they now have the confidence and momentum. But I don’t expect the Sun will go down that easily. Connecticut still matches up quite well with Vegas and while I still expect the Aces to win this series, if Alyssa Thomas can come back, I think Connecticut is a live underdog.
If you’re enjoyed this story and want significantly more coverage including quarter by quarter breakdowns, a summary of the COVID19 scare, and lots of interviews from Storm players and Head Coach Gary Kloppenburg, then make sure you check out the Complete Edition linked below!