We have entered an incredible era of women’s basketball. The WNBA is more popular than ever, and it’s safe to say the future of the league is going to be epic, but it’s all starting with the present.
We were all less than satisfied with the 2021 WNBA Playoffs when great teams were victims of first-round single elimination games, robbing us of what could have been a rollercoaster series.
Sure, the Chicago Sky’s rise from fifth seed to WNBA Champions was incredible and slightly made up for the matchups we were robbed of earlier – but fans were vocal about the need to change up the playoff format.
So this year, the WNBA axed the single elimination round, and each playoff match in the first round was given a best of three series.
It did not disappoint.
In case you missed it, here’s what went down in round one:
#1 Las Vegas Aces vs #8 Phoenix Mercury
When it comes to series predictions versus final results, this matchup between The Las Vegas Aces (who have been dominant all season) and the Phoenix Mercury (who just barely made it into the playoffs) was probably the most accurate.
Now, the Aces definitely deserve their flowers. Yet, I think it’s important to note that the Mercury fought to the bitter end in this series – and in the season in general. After a tumultuous season, you have to give them credit for not going down without a fight.
By the time this series got to game two, the Mercury were putting together a starting lineup with players that would have barely gotten minutes if their roster was healthy. Not only were they missing Griner all season, Kia Nurse had also been out all year recovering from an ACL tear. Plus, by the end of the season, Diana Taurasi was out with a quad injury, Skylar Diggins Smith left the team due to personal reasons, and Shey Peddy ruptured her achilles – not to mention the mid-season departure of Tina Charles from the team.
When you factor in how absolutely destructive the Las Vegas Aces have been this year, under the leadership of new head coach Becky Hammon, the Aces taking it in two was not exactly the shock of the season. With MVP caliber performances from A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum’s sharp shooting, and the floor navigation of Chelsea Gray, not to mention the rest of their superb roster – this Aces team is a tough matchup for anyone.
The Mercury kept hope alive in game one by keeping up with Las Vegas, and it wasn’t a terrible loss – the score ended up being 79-63 for the Aces, and in the fourth Phoenix managed to come within one point. It was Kelsey Plum’s 22 point performance and Chelsea Gray’s nine-point in the fourth quarter that allowed them to take it.
When Peddy suffered a ruptured achilles injury in game one, taking her out of game two, it set the stage for the Aces to come out dominant, making their first ten shots from the field and eventually running away with the game.
Las Vegas took game two 117-80, winning the series 2-0 and eliminating the Phoenix Mercury from the 2022 WNBA Playoffs.
#2 Chicago Sky vs #7 New York Liberty
Another matchup that almost seemed pre-determined – but in this case, the scripts were flipped. After being at the top of the standings all season long, the Chicago Sky were expected to finish off the inconsistent New York Liberty pretty quickly. Instead, the Liberty surprised us as usual, stealing the first game in Chicago and stunning their opponents, fans, and the media.
The Sky reacted with a vengeance in game two – beating New York 100-62 with dominance and bringing the series to a game three tie breaker. With the home court advantage in the final game, the New York Liberty’s hopes of stunning the defending champions rose significantly.
The game at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn sold out last Tuesday, creating a tense atmosphere and a challenge for Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, and the rest of the Chicago squad. Despite the pressure, it was a final push in the fourth quarter that helped the Sky cross the finish line.
The Chicago Sky won game three 90-72, advancing to the semi-final and knocking out a New York Liberty team who, despite having a few things to work out in the off-season, looked better this season than they have in years.
#4 Seattle Storm vs #5 Washington Mystics
Of every first round playoff match, this was the one people had their eyes on the most. It seemed virtually unpredictable – Seattle and Washington were equally matched and every game they played this season was a toss up. Fans felt sure that this would go to a three game series and would be a fight to the bitter end.
That was not what happened.
Game one was tighter – the lead changed multiple times and for a minute in the fourth quarter it seemed like the Mystics were on their way to stealing the match. It was the late-game heroics of Jewell Loyd that came in clutch to secure the win for Seattle. They took game one 86-83 with Loyd scoring 16 points and MVP candidate Breanna Stewart scoring 23 points.
Of all the teams that could come back in a series and win on their opponents’ turf, the Mystics definitely had the highest chance of success. I mean, when you have Elena Delle Donne on your roster, anything is possible. Hopes were still high among Washington fans going into game two at Climate Pledge Arena.
However, Seattle wasn’t going to let them off easy. With the possibility that this could be Sue Bird’s last home game ever, Seattle fans came through and created an intense atmosphere that only fired up the team more.
And it worked.
Breanna Stewart had trouble connecting in the first half of the game, but contributed immensely in the second half.
It was thanks to her as well as a vintage Sue Bird performance of 18 points and 10 assists that led the Storm to regain their lead and hold it through the end of the game. The electricity in Seattle just oozed through the TV, and viewers could tell that the Storm wanted to send a message to the league – do not count us out.
The Storm took game two 97-84 and booked their ticket to the semi finals – while also getting to cancel their ticket to game three in Washington.
#3 Connecticut Sun vs #6 Dallas Wings
It’s getting a little repetitive – but I promise this series seemed pretty predictable from the jump as well. The Connecticut Sun have been finals contenders for years now and many thought the 2021 season was their year.
With MVP Jonquel Jones absolutely crushing it game after game, it was disappointing for Sun fans when they lost in last year’s semi finals to the eventual champions the Chicago Sky.
So when they were matched with a Dallas team that had an up and down season, it seemed they would be a shoe-in to take their opening series in two games.
Game one surely worked out in the Sun’s favor. They took it 93-68 and asserted their dominance early on – but Dallas wasn’t finished yet. Despite missing their star player Arike Ogunbowale to injury, the Wings took game two 89-79 and pushed the series to a tiebreaker.
However, the Sun couldn’t be extinguished that easily. They fought hard in game three and pulled away in the second half to clinch their spot in the semifinal, winning 73-58 in Dallas.
What’s Next in the Playoffs?
The semi finals! In the end, the top four teams in the regular season standings will be the ones to compete for a chance to get to the 2022 WNBA Finals.
Reigning champs Chicago Sky will be facing the Connecticut Sun yet again, in hopes of repeating last year’s magic and going for back to back Championships.
On the West Coast, it’ll be number one seed Las Vegas Aces trying to book a spot to the Finals over the Seattle Storm in a battle that will bring the two highest MVP contenders together. Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson have both been essential in their team’s success this year and that will only continue going into this matchup.
So who will go head to head in the 2022 WNBA Championships? In this league, anything is possible — so make sure to tune in to the semi final round all week long!