Wednesday night’s WNBA Playoff First Round was about the young stars who planted their flags. Diamond DeShields led the Sky to their first playoff victory since 2016 with a 25-point night. IN HER FIRST EVER PLAYOFF GAME. Then, Jordin Canada put up 26 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals to led the Seattle Storm to the second round. These two wanted to prove to the league that they were ready for the big time and did just that.
Congratulations to the Storm and the Sky for advancing decisively in the first round. Their prize is to play teams with an truly stunning amount of talent. Los Angeles has two former MVPs in Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, 2019’s most clutch player in Chelsea Gray, and a slew of great role players led by Chiney Ogwumike. All-Stars Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, and Kayla McBride lead the Aces.
On paper, the cities with Spanish names own stronger rosters than their opponents. But they don’t play the games on paper! The Sky and Storm have more enough firepower to win these games. Both these games should be close and fun. Let’s dig deeper into the Second Round and try to figure out what will happen.
6-Seattle Storm @ 3-Los Angeles Sparks
Tipoff time: 3:00 pm EST, ESPN 2
Team Vitals: Los Angeles 22-12, 99.3 ORTG (4th), 96.0 DRTG (3rd). Seattle 18-16, 96.2 ORTG (9th), 96.4 DRTG (4th)
Season Series: Los Angeles 2-1 (SEA 84-62, LA 83-75, LA 102-68)
Betting info: Line: LA -7 Over/Under: 156
Key to the Game: Can Seattle muck up this game?
In my first round preview, I compared the Storm (and the Lynx) to mudders or horses that love racing in the mud and the rain. To beat the Sparks on Sunday, Seattle will need to hope for rain and mud, so to speak.
As I mentioned above, the Sparks have more talent than the Storm. LA can have an entire lineup of current or former all stars with one on the bench. Seattle only has two active players who have made an All-Star team. The Sparks will win if both teams play an average game, especially at home where they have won 14 straight games.
Therefore, the Storm needs to control the flow of the game and make sure that LA plays below average. The first way to do this is by winning the battle of the boards. The team who got the most rebounds won each of the regular season games between these teams. LA’s backcourt trio of Candace Parker, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike pull down 21 rebounds a game. Seattle’s best rebounders, Natasha Howard and Mercedes Russell, need to box those bigs out and outsmart them. Alysha Clark could be the X-factor on the glass. The second-team All-Defense selection pulls down 4.7 boards per game and had a season-high 10 rebounds in Seattle’s win against LA in June.
Seattle will also need to win the turnover battle to hang with LA. Both teams are in the top 3 of opponent turnover %. But the Sparks are middle of the road in turning the ball over while the Storm are second-to-last in that stat. In the first-round, the Storm forced 18 turnovers while only coughing it up 11 times. Clark, Jordin Canada and Jewell Loyd can really affect this game with their active hands and ball pressure. LA will need patience from Chelsea Gray, who averages the second-most turnovers in the league, and focus from the rest of squad to execute their game plan on Sunday.
LA just needs to keep this game flowing and to play their game to win. But if Seattle wins the rebounding and turnover battles, they’ll have a good chance of mucking game up and make it a low-scoring affair. That’s the Storm’s best chance at advancing.
The Sparks are just too good at home and in the clutch to go against them here. Seattle will succeed in controlling the pace early, thanks to some turnovers by a giddy Sparks team. The Storm will be looking to get Natasha Howard going early as well, which should lea
d to some fouls on LA’s bigs. The Sparks may also struggle in the first half as they figure out who is hot and needs to get time in the second half.
I expect this to be a close game into the fourth quarter. But LA will pull away. They’re the best home team in the league at 15-2 in the Staples Center, including 14 straight wins. The crowd will give them a big boost late. Even if it remains close in the final minutes, Chelsea Gray will hit any necessary big shots. I have called her the best clutch player in basketball this season and she’ll prove me right in this one. LA moves on to play Connecticut in the Semis.
Final Score: Los Angeles–85 Seattle–80
5-Chicago Sky @ 4-Las Vegas Aces
Tipoff time: 5:00 pm EST, ESPN 2
Team Vitals: Las Vegas 21-13, 99.1 ORTG (5th), 95.0 DRTG (1st). Chicago 20-14, 101.6 ORTG (2nd), 100.2 DRTG (9th)
Season Series: Las Vegas 2-1 (LV 90-82, CHI 87-84, LV 100-85)
Betting info: Vegas -4.5; Over/Under: 175
Keys to the Game: Chicago’s bigs
Chicago’s frontcourt will need to have a legendary game to win this one. After Jantel Lavender went down for the year, the big group faced a ton of questions. Stefanie Dolson, Astou Ndour, and Cheyenne Parker needed to up their games and they did as the Sky kept humming. However, what faces them in Las Vegas is a truly monumental task.
They need to slow down deejay/model/icon/unstoppable force of nature Liz Cambage. Cambage puts up 16 points and 8 rebounds on average, 10 of those points coming in the paint. In the last two meetings between these teams, Liz has averaged 25.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. She also created beef with Dolson by allegedly calling her a “fat ass.”
Oh they also need to contain All Star Captain A’ja Wilson. Last time against Chicago, Wilson put up 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks while getting to the line 13 times. Then there’s just Sixth Woman of the Year favorite Dearica Hamby to contend with.
Keeping these three monsters in check is a herculean task for any team. But especially for Chicago as they give up the most points in the paint in the league (36.9 per game). So Dolson, Ndour, Parker, and even Diamond DeShields (who will have to guard one of these much bigger players at times) need to have amazing defensive performances to keep the Aces at bay.
Chicago may also turn this into a good ol’ fashioned shootout in the desert. Both teams love to run as they top the league in volume of transition possessions. However, Chicago is substantially more efficient on the break. If the Sky can get out in transition, they’ll be able to break through Vegas’s league-best defense and tire out the Aces’ stars.
I really thought I would have figured out who to pick while writing the preview. But here we are and I have no clue. Vegas will come hot in their first ever playoff game. Cambage, Wilson, and Kayla McBride thrive in games like this and will be hyped. Chicago needs to stay within striking distance in the first half. Coach of the Year James Wade should try going at Cambage and/or Wilson off screens to try to get fouls on those two.
It’ll be a fast game with a lot of transition buckets. Those fastbreak points will keep Chicago in it until late. Diamond DeShields will have a huge game, as will Courtney Vandersloot. I expect that Astou Ndour will look good again too. Myheart says to pick the Sky, but I just can’t see it happening. I trust A’ja, Cambage and above all Kayla McBride to make crucial, clutch shots. Aces squeak by the Sky and on to face the Mystics in the Semis.
Final Score: Las Vegas Aces—94 Chicago Sky—91