The WNBA playoffs are here and there's plenty to talk about. Storylines abound for both first-round games, with the Sky welcoming a struggling Mercury team to Chicago while the last two WNBA champions face off in Seattle.
The WNBA postseason is here and I am ready! This is going to be an awesome month for fans old and new, so let's get right to the first-round matchups and what to expect from the bottom four teams who made the playoffs.
Can Chicago's Offense Cover for Its Interior Problem?
Before I even start to try and break this down, what a helluva year from the Chicago Sky. This is a team that won only 13 games and finished with the worst defensive rating (by 2.7 points) last season.
Enter James Wade—for my money, the Coach of the Year—a transcendent season from Chicago’s Big Three and a defense that, while still porous, can hold its own in most situations. In fact, let’s address those latter two points individually.
Courtney Vandersloot turned herself from an assist machine and dependable star to a bonafide MVP candidate who’s averaging 3.2 more assists per game than the next highest player in the league. Simply put, the Sky wouldn’t be here without her contributions and those of …
The second half of the Vanderquigs, Allie Quigley, who has never seen a net she couldn’t scorch. Quigley’s shooting stats look like a gunner maxed out their shootings stats on 2K. Shooting 49.3% from the field, 44.2% from three and scoring 13.8 points per game is an enviable year for almost anyone in the league and will serve Chicago well in the postseason.
And, of course, I can’t forget Diamond DeShields, who took yet another leap this year and helps this offense go. I took a look at the Sky’s postseason prospects a little while back, so I won’t rehash all of it here, but just know that there are more than a few teams who likely wouldn’t want to see Chicago across from them in the playoff bracket.
But the team that does have them in the first round, the Phoenix Mercury, can take solace in one thing: The Sky’s biggest weakness is one of Phoenix’s greatest assets. Chicago is the worst team in the league when it comes to giving up points in the paint, allowing 36.9 points on average.
That will be music to Brittney Griner and the Mercury’s ears. Phoenix has dealt with injuries, suspensions and just overall bad luck all year and comes into the playoffs with the lowest seed and the most questions.
It closed the year with four straight losses, the first of which came at the hands of the Sky in a 27-point blowout. The Mercury have gotten players back throughout the season but it appears to have come at the cost of overall chemistry. That coupled with not knowing what—if anything—the team can get out of Diana Taurasi and it looks like it will take quite a bit for Phoenix to get out of the first round.
But we are talking about a one-game playoff where anything can happen, and if DeWanna Bonner gets cooking and Brittney Griner goes to work against the Sky’s interior defense and Chicago can’t compensate with offense, Phoenix has a chance.
Either way, expect to see a lot of Griner posting up on Stefanie Dolson and Astou Ndour, some fantastic offensive sequences from the Sky and two MVP candidates trying to decide the fate of their teams. My money’s on Chicago, but Phoenix has a habit of surprising people in the playoffs. This is going to be fun.
A Battle of (Former) Champions
We have been blessed with a matchup of the winners of the last two WNBA championships … in the first round (!!!). These two teams are vastly different than the ones that lifted the trophy during their respective championship years but that doesn’t mean their single-elimination game won’t be incredibly entertaining.
It’s tough to even find a place to start with this game because storylines abound.
The matchup features my pick for Defensive Player of the Year, Natasha Howard, going against Sylvia Fowles. And speaking of defense, Minnesota and Seattle finished the year at No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, in defensive rating, meaning we could be in store for a grind-it-out slugfest (my favorite).
Both of these teams came into the season without one or more of their stars and expectations that they would take a massive step back, opening up the playoffs for some of the younger upstart teams in the league.
Flash forward a few months and both teams are in a familiar place: the playoffs.
There are matchups to watch all over the court. The aforementioned Howard vs. Fowles is the headliner, but Jordin Canada suffocating Odyssey Sims while Jewell Loyd and Seimone Augustus go to work against one another is going to be fun. And even those exclude rookie sensation Napheesa Collier and the always dependable Alysha Clark.
The matchups on the bench are just as intriguing as the ones on the floor, with two of the smartest minds in the W going against one another. Cheryl Reeve has remade a team that lost Lindsay Whalen to retirement, Maya Moore to a sabbatical and Augustus to injury for much of the season.
Dan Hughes has gone through quite a bit since the start of 2019 but has managed to weather the losses of 2018 league MVP Breanna Stewart and legend Sue Bird to lead the Storm to a sixth seed.
It was Hughes and the Storm who emerged victorious the last time these teams met, with Sims’s 30-point outburst canceled out by the balanced relentlessness of Seattle.
But the time to rehash regular-season basketball is over. **Extreme Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity War Voice** We’re in the postseason now, and the next month is going to be a roller coaster ride full of twists, turns and excitement. I hope y’all are strapped in.
I don’t know what more we can say about Elena Delle Donne that hasn’t already been said but the MVP-to-be was straight balling this year. This is absurd. Long live the Masked Mystic and Washington’s unstoppable offense.
Dear, Mortals. Stop. Challenging. Pro. Ballers. They will make you look silly in front of the Internet. Or don’t, honestly I love laughing at y’all taking buckets to the head while looking confused at how this is happening.
Just another reminder the top women hoopers in the world will bust your a**‼️ @PHEEsespieces— Alex Bazzell (@alexbazzell24) August 20, 2019
2 things all haters have in common...
1. 100% will be going professional in something other than sports.
2. They comment about the kitchen from their parents basement. 😂 pic.twitter.com/KhWpbVaerU
Also I wasn’t ready to see Coach T break it down. Mystics game ops, I beg of you, please play this during every home game this postseason.