The National Women's Hockey League is currently in its offseason following its sixth year of play, but things have been anything but normal over the past few weeks. A lot has transpired recently, and it appears as though this could be the tip of the iceberg.
The condensed yet action-packed WNBA season will soon be coming to a close – but not before what looks to be an amazing set of Finals games. The Seattle Storm will take on the Washington Mystics in the best-of-five series that tips off on Friday, September 7.
How did we get here? What can we expect from the end-of-season series? Why was the season shorter than normal anyway?
How We Got Here
In another example of how much the talent has grown in the WNBA, both of this year's semifinals went to deciding fifth games. This was different from last season, when the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks swept their respective opponents ahead of their second-straight Finals together.
This year's Finals will look different, too. The Phoenix Mercury had the most recent league crown among the semifinalists, winning it all in 2014. They came close to clinching another Finals berth this year as well. Down two games to zero in the semis, the Mercury took full advantage of playing at home to tie the series before the Storm and their home fans took over in game 5. Seattle used a big fourth quarter to beat Phoenix, 94-84, in the decisive game. The Storm’s win clinched their first trip to the Finals since 2010, the last time they won it all. MVP Breanna Stewart led everyone with 28 points, but the story of the night was Sue Bird. She broke her nose for the fifth time in her career after awkwardly bumping into Stewart in game 4, but that didn’t stop her from playing in Tuesday’s game.
She went on to score 22 points in the game, 14 of which came in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The other semifinals match did not disappoint either. While the Atlanta Dream had been to the Finals three times before, they wanted to keep the momentum going in what’s been a turnaround season for them. The Washington Mystics, however, had never reached the Finals – until now. Everyone shined in Tuesday’s 86-81 win over Atlanta, including Washington rookie Ariel Atkins, who led all players with 20 points. Kristi Toliver had herself a game 5, too, finishing with 19.
But if there were a semifinals MVP, I hope it would go to Elena Delle Donne. After missing game 3 following the scary knee injury she suffered in game 2, the Mystics forward did everything in her power to make sure she got to play in game 4.
And by everything, I mean everything.
Alex Bentley led Atlanta with 16 points off the bench in Game 5. While Dream players and Coach of the Year Nicki Collen admitted to having issues with some of the calls against them, they should still be applauded for the season they had. The Dream finished with 11 more regular season wins this year than in 2017. As Angel McCoughtry said to the home crowd after the loss: they'll be back.
What We Can Expect
While both teams have a shot at winning it all this year, one thing's for sure – the players will put on some great basketball along the way. Seattle and Washington playing in the Finals shows the level of parity in the WNBA this year. While the Storm last won it all in 2010, neither head coach Dan Hughes nor Mystics head coach Mike Thibault has ever taken home the league title. Only a handful of players on both teams have Finals experience at all, including Toliver (2016 champion with Los Angeles), Delle Donne (2014 Finals with Chicago), Bird (2004 and 2010 champion with Seattle), and Most Improved Player award winner Natasha Howard (2015 Finals with Indiana, 2017 champion with Minnesota).
So, much like the rest of the season thus far, either team could win the Finals. You might just have to search far and wide to actually see the squads play.
- Game 1 (Washington at Seattle): Friday, September 7, 9:00 PM Eastern [ESPNews]
- Game 2 (Washington at Seattle): Sunday, September 9, 3:30 PM Eastern [ABC]
- Game 3 (Seattle at Washington): Wednesday, September 12, 8:00 PM Eastern [ESPN2]
- Game 4 (Seattle at Washington): Friday, September 14, 8:00 PM Eastern [ESPN2]
- Game 5 (Washington at Seattle): Sunday, September 16, 8:00 PM Eastern [ESPN2]
The first game of the Finals is on ESPNews. Not many people get that channel. I know it's a Friday, so football and other things are happening, but there's no reason why a game in a major professional league's finals should not be on ABC, or at least basic cable. I'm happy to see that at least one game is, though, and I hope that trend continues. I would highly recommend people to tune in to any game they can, especially Game 2 on ABC, in hopes that the powers that be will see the numbers and broadcast more games in the future.
Also, the Mystics are hosting their game(s) in their third arena of the year. Capitol One Arena, Washington's home, is being renovated, so they moved to the Charles E. Smith Center at George Washington University. The USA Women's National Team is using that arena, so the Mystics are moving again to the EagleBank Arena on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. Props to the Mystics staff for putting together round-trip shuttle service between the arena and a local metro station, but it shouldn't have to be done. If the NBA Finals are played at the teams' home turfs and broadcast on ABC, the WNBA's should be, too.
But that's another story.
Why the season was condensed
While the Storm and Mystics battle it out in the WNBA Finals, many other players and staff are gearing up for the FIBA Women's World Cup, which starts in just over two weeks. The event takes place on even years every four years opposite of the Summer Olympics.
USA Basketball opened its team training earlier this week in Columbia, South Carolina. A number of current WNBA and college players are vying for spots on the World Cup roster right now, including Rookie of the Year A'ja Wilson and Oregon standout Sabrina Ionescu. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley is leading Team USA; Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve and George Washington head coach Jennifer Rizzotti are her assistants. Hughes will join as an assistant coach as well after his Storm squad finishes the Finals.
The roster has already been cut to 15 after a Red-White scrimmage Wednesday night in Columbia. Those players will head north to continue training before exhibition games against Canada on September 8 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and against Japan on September 10 in Washington, D.C. Both contests can be seen on NBA TV.
Canada's final roster was announced on Wednesday. Indiana's Natalie Achonwa and Kayla Alexander lead the team along with New York's Kia Nurse.
Filed under: wnba; 2018 wnba playoffs; phoenix mercury; seattle storm; sue bird; atlanta dream; washington mystics; elena delle donne; ariel atkins; kristi toliver; alex bentley; dan hughes; mike thibault; natasha howard; breanna stewart
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