It was a flurried finish as the WNBA wrapped up its 22-game regular season on Sunday.
It took until the last day for the eight playoff teams to be decided, as the Las Vegas Aces, Seattle Storm, Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix Mercury, Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics all punched their ticket to the postseason.
Watch the WNBA playoff double-header LIVE on Tuesday night with the Chicago Sky taking on the Connecticut Sun at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST followed by the Phoenix Mercury facing off against the Washington Mystics at 9 p.m. EST/6 p.m. PST on TSN1/4 and streaming on TSN.ca, the TSN App and TSN Direct.
After being in first for most of the season, the Storm was usurped from the top by the Aces in their last meeting of the season as Las Vegas downed Seattle 86-84 to clinch the No. 1 seed. On the other end, the Mystics had to win their last game to get into the playoffs and they did just that, defeating the Atlanta Dream.
The first round of the playoffs begins with two single-elimination games, featuring the No. 5 seeded Mercury against the No. 8 Mystics and the sixth-seeded Sky taking on the No. 7 Sun. The No. 3 seed Sparks and No. 4 Lynx have received byes to round two, while the Aces and Storm advance straight to the semifinals.
No. 5 Mercury vs. No. 8 Mystics
The defending WNBA champion Mystics clinched the eighth and final playoff spot with an 85-78 win over the Dream. Their reward is a single-elimination playoff date against the Mercury, who are 7-3 in their past 10 games with Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith playing lights-out basketball.
The Mercury lost two key players in Brittney Griner (personal reasons) and Bria Hartley (knee injury) during the regular season but that hasn’t stopped Phoenix. Since the end of August, Diggins-Smith has cranked it up a notch offensively with five straight games of 20+ points and a season-high 33-point performance against the Sun.
After dealing with a back injury in early August that caused her to miss three games, Taurasi has been her usual self. She finished the season fifth in the league in PPG at 18.7. In their first game against the Mystics earlier in the season, Taurasi went off for 34 points and went 7-for-13 from three.
The Mystics were without the services of reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles and Natasha Cloud this season but that gave some other players the opportunity to step up and play important minutes. Offensively, Myisha Hines-Allen, Ariel Atkins and Emma Meesseman were their constants, with Hines-Allen going from bench player last year to starting every game this season. Her 17 PPG, 8.9 RPB and 2.6 assists per game in 2020 all smash her previous career highs.
The Mercury went 2-0 against the Mystics in the regular season and are the favourite in this matchup. While the Mystics are rolling, having won five of their last six games, the duo of Taurasi and Diggins-Smith has been exceptional for the Mercury.
No. 6 Sky vs. No. 7 Sun
The Chicago Sky go into the postseason having struggled in their last 10. Two key players in Diamond DeShields (personal reasons) and Azura Stevens (knee injury) both left the bubble, challenging Chicago’s depth. Offensively, the Sky are strong, led by assists leader Courtney Vandersloot (10 APG), Allie Quigley, who led the team in scoring at 15.4 PPG, and Kahleah Copper at 14.9 PPG.
However, the Sky struggle on the defensive side of the ball with a 102.7 defensive rating, which is the worst among playoff teams. They lost in the second round last year against the Aces on a buzzer-beater.
Playing at a 19.7 PPG clip, DeWanna Bonner is a big reason why the Sun are in the playoffs. In six out of her past seven games, she has registered 20+ points. She is one of four players on the Sun’s roster averaging 10+ PPG. And despite some injury issues, Alyssa Thomas produced 15.5 PPG with nine RPG, which was second in the league to go with a league-best two steals per game.
Neither team comes into the matchup on a hot streak. The Sky are just 4-6 in their past 10 games while the Sun have dropped two games in a row and are 5-5 in their past 10. Chicago took the first meeting between the two teams 100-93 on Aug. 8, with Connecticut taking the second game 77-74 on Aug. 14.
The winners of the first-round elimination games will take on the Sparks and the Lynx in the second round. The Sparks will get the lower seed and the Lynx will play the higher seeded team in another round of single-elimination games.