The single rounds of elimination from the WNBA playoffs are over and the winners advance to the semifinals, where they now face Connecticut and Las Vegas for a shot at the title.
But before those games that shape the championship happen, the first four games of these playoffs are worth noting.
From Game 1 there was an undeniable intensity. Here’s what you may have missed.
Phoenix keeps fighting to the finish
The Phoenix Mercury has some of the best players in the league, and it’s no surprise that they made it to the semifinals as fifth seed, with the likes of Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith putting on a show for every audience they played for. .
Their path was anything but easy. The eight-man New York Liberty would not go down without a fight, and the game went to the closing seconds when the Mercury narrowly escaped in the 83-82 win.
Griner delivered a double-double for 16 points and 10 rebounds while still being one of the top centers in the league, but also added six assists, using her size advantage to see the floor and make important passes for make her teammates.
Diggins-Smith was also on a tear – as she has been in the second half of the season – with a 22-point outing. But it was Sophie Cunningham who made the difference for the Mercury, with a 21-point performance, including 6-of-7 from the three-point line in the win.
Betnijah Laney, who starred in New York’s offense all season, netted 25 points—nearly a third of New York’s score—while Natasha Howard scored a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double with her amazing defensive game. Sabrina Ionescu has had a tough season after missing her rookie year, but her instinctive vision on the field was clear with her 14-point, 11-assist double-double.
Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith drives past New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu (20) during the first half of the first round of the WNBA Basketball Playoffs, Thursday, September 23, 2021, in Phoenix. (Rick Scuteri/AP)
In the second round, Phoenix faced defending champions Seattle, although they didn’t have a lead in Breanna Stewart.
Seattle, of course, has plenty of other talented athletes like Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, but the absence of the 2020 Finals MVP was obvious.
With a back-and-forth game ending in overtime, Phoenix managed to get away for an 85-80 win after Seattle was unable to fire in the last second and relied on Phoenix to miss foul shots to take the lead. get the ball back for a chance at a comeback.
Phoenix held sniper Loyd to just 15 points on 5-for-24 shooting, including keeping her 0-for-7 from the three-point line. Bird and Katie Lou Samuelson more than made up for the score with 16 and 18 points respectively, and Mercedes Russell continued to show her dominance with a 10-point double-double and 12 rebounds.
However, for Seattle, their bench contributed only 12 points to the loss, and was unable to support the starters’ efforts on the floor.
Griner proved once again how invaluable she is to the Mercury, with a 23-point, 16 rebound performance while protecting the edge against some of the best from Seattle. Diggins-Smith again performed with 20 points, while Brianna Turner, who was also named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive First Team, scored a double-double for 12 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
Kia Nurse, who played only in her second playoff game of her career, added 12 points to the win. Phoenix is now 8-2 in single-elimination playoffs since the league changed its playoff format in 2016.
Bless the timeline with a few greats.pic.twitter.com/AWiUW9frrS
— Phoenix Mercury – X (@PhoenixMercury) September 27, 2021
Chicago climbs to semifinals
A team that has faced ups and downs all season with injuries and cap space, the Sky have finally gotten their rhythm and look unstoppable on the pitch.
Both of Chicago’s wins were by at least 13 points, with their balanced attack able to share the burden and cause defenders to work overtime to stop the Sky.
In Chicago’s first game against Dallas, Candace Parker took full advantage of her playoff debut as a member of the Sky, and the striker’s balance on both sides of the court showed why they changed the way forwards played the game of basketball forever. With 11 points, 15 rebounds — including 13 defensively — and seven assists, Parker was too dominant to stop Dallas.
But if you ask Parker, it was Kahleah Copper who drove the momentum for Chicago, with a 23 point performance on 10-for-14 shooting from the field. Courtney Vandersloot also balanced the offense with 17 points, six assists and eight rebounds in the win.
Dallas may not have left with the result they wanted, but they have laid a foundation for the future under Vickie Johnson as the Wings have a young core with Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally in charge. Ogunbowale scored 22 points and Sabally added 12, the only two double-digit scorers for Dallas.
Izzy Harrison, the Wings leading sixth woman, led the defensive offense with a performance of 10 rebounds, including eight boards on the defensive glass. Allisha Gray also added nine points and six rebounds in the loss, and key pieces showed progress from earlier in the season.
Chicago Sky forward/centers Azurá Stevens (30) and Candace Parker (3) celebrate their win over the Minnesota Lynx in a WNBA basketball game, Sunday, September 26, 2021, in Minneapolis. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)
Chicago moved into third seed Minnesota and now faced Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles, as well as a well-rounded team that included Napheesa Collier, Layshia Clarendon, Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers.
After trailing by one in the first quarter, Chicago slowly moved away and led quarter after quarter into the fourth, when they sealed the win with a 27-20 finish to advance to the semifinals.
The game was won on the glass when Chicago managed to beat their opponent and Minnesota could only get six offensive boards into the win. The Sky also had a 22-6 lead in fast-break points with 11 steals in the game.
Minnesota was able to tame Parker and keep her to just eight points and four rebounds, but Copper knocked it out again with a performance of 16 points and 10 rebounds. Azura Stevens stood up for Chicago when they needed it, with a 15-point, eight rebound performance, and Diamond DeShields also gave 14 points.
Vandersloot was again fantastic with a performance of 19 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Sky.
Chicago stopped Collier and Clarendon and kept them at eight and zero points respectively, although Aerial Powers stood out for the Lynx with her 24 point performance.
Fowles added a nearly double-double with 17 points and eight rebounds, as did McBride with 19 points and seven rebounds, but the Lynx bench only yielded eight points, which wasn’t enough to keep up with Chicago’s pace.
Chicago will open their best-of-five series against #1-seeded Connecticut Sun, who finished their season with a 14-game winning streak. Phoenix will take on Las Vegas from the second series, who faced Seattle in the WNBA final last season, and will attempt to claim the title with the defending champions out.