It has been a very busy week for the WNBA. The semifinals of the playoffs began, officially cutting the number of teams vying for a title in half. A legend in the league played the last game of her career. End-of-season awards were handed out, and the 2019 WNBA Draft Lottery took place.
Let’s dive in.
Lynx, Wings exit in first round
The WNBA playoffs got underway last Tuesday, August 21, with two single-elimination first round games. Despite the lower-seeded host teams winning both contests, neither were a disappointment. The Phoenix Mercury beat the Dallas Wings 101-83 in the playoff opener, led by DeWanna Bonner with 29 points and Diana Taurasi with 26. Skylar Diggins-Smith (23 points) and Liz Cambage (22) kept the Wings in the contest, but no other player scored more than eight points. The Wings now enter an off-season of uncertainty as the team looks for a new head coach while trying to keep Cambage stateside.
A familiar rivalry popped up in an unfamiliar place in the second game – the Minnesota Lynx traveled to Los Angeles to take on the Sparks. The last two title contenders met in the first round this year, and the Sparks came out on top with a 75-68 win. Chelsea Gray essentially went off for L.A., leading everyone with 26 points while Nneka Ogwumike added 19 and Riquna Williams had 17. Candace Parker (2 points) didn’t play much because of illness, but that didn’t matter. While Sylvia Fowles again led the Lynx with 18 points, Temi Fagbenle added a career-high 15 off the bench. The Lynx have a big off-season of their own ahead, in part because…
Whalen Hangs It Up
Minnesota’s one-and-done playoff loss in L.A. also marked the end of Lindsay Whalen’s playing career. Earlier this month, the veteran guard announced she would retire from the WNBA at the end of the Lynx's season. While Whalen’s decision didn’t surprise many, how soon it would go into effect did. She may not have had the best looking score sheets this year, but her determination and ability to be a team player will be missed on the Lynx bench. Whalen won’t be too far away, though. She's already started work as the new head coach of the University of Minnesota women's basketball team. And…
Mercury Set the Sun in Second Round; Washington Moves On
The Connecticut Sun entered the 2017 playoffs with a single-bye as the #4 seed before losing to Phoenix in the second round.
Lather, rinse, and repeat in 2018.
The Mercury continued their playoff run with a 96-86 win in Connecticut. Only five Phoenix players scored in the game. But when two of them (Taurasi and Brittney Griner) score 27 each and another (Bonner) adds 23, that’s okay. Courtney Williams also scored 27 points for the Sun, while Sixth Woman of the Year winner Jonquel Jones added 13. More on those awards later.
Washington had a different outcome for their playoff debut, as the #3 seed Mystics cruised to a 96-64 win over Los Angeles. Candace Parker led the Sparks with 16 points; she was the only player on her team to hit double-digits. Elena Delle Donne led everyone – and five other Mystics players in double-figures – with 19 points in the win. Washington might need more of that balanced scoring going forward...
Delle Donne gets hurt – bad – in Semifinal Game 2
The WNBA changed its playoff format in 2016, essentially getting rid of the idea of conference finals. Someone forgot to tell this year’s semifinal teams that. The unofficial conference finals/official league semifinals began over the weekend with the West’s Seattle Storm (#1 seed) entering against Phoenix and the East's Atlanta Dream (#2 seed) against Washington. Unlike the first two "rounds" of the playoffs, the semifinals and finals are both best-of-five series.
The Mystics-Dream series is tied at one game each as it heads to Washington for games 3 and 4 after Atlanta’s come-from-behind win in game 2. But that's not the biggest story from Tuesday's game; Mystics star forward Elena Delle Donne suffered a bad knee injury in the fourth quarter of that contest. I won't post any videos or images of what happened because it's graphic. And hearing that teammate Kristi Toliver was crying in the post-game press conference broke my heart. But EDD was walking after the game and hopeful, so we'll see. Game 3 is set for Friday night in D.C.
Storm and Dream clean up end-of-year awards; Stewart wins MVP
Though some of the announcements were made at odd times (not even 5:30 AM Pacific time…), many were pleased with the honorees of the WNBA's end-of-season awards. As previously mentioned, Connecticut's Jonquel Jones took home the Sixth Woman of the Year award as the league’s top reserve.
Seattle swept the rest of the player awards: Sue Bird won the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award for the second year in a row; Natasha Howard won Most Improved Player (!); and Breanna Stewart is the regular season MVP. All of these awards are absolutely well-deserved in my opinion. I’m especially happy to see Howard get the MIP nod; her presence on the Lynx is missed this year, but I'm happy she’s getting more playing time.
The Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year awards went to Atlanta's Nicki Collen and Chris Sienko, respectively. These awards could have gone to a handful of people – including Seattle's squad – but I’m happy to see them go to the Dream's team. They took Atlanta from the bottom of the standings to a top-two seed and a possible Finals berth – in just their first years on the job. That’s impressive, win or lose.
As with any award voted on by media members, there was some debate among fans and media alike about how votes were distributed, particularly among second- and third-place choices. But that's not to take anything away from the winners and other vote-getters – all of whom were more than deserving.
Las Vegas wins WNBA Draft Lottery... again
Lady Luck was on the Aces' side Tuesday night, as Las Vegas won the WNBA Draft Lottery for the third year in a row. The result sparked a lot of controversy, with many suggesting the Aces' forfeit of their game against Washington in July might have had something to do with it. The last-place Indiana Fever entered the night with the best odds to get the top draft pick; they slid to third.
Current and former players alike showed their disappointment on Twitter.
But the Fever brought up a good point…
The rest of the first round order is as follows:
- Las Vegas
- New York
- Los Angeles
(Photo credit: Minnesota Lynx/Twitter)