And then there were four.
From a pool of 12 teams featuring 144 players, the field is down to four teams and 48 of the best basketball players in the world competing in the 2019 WNBA Semifinals. To get here, two teams had to survive single-elimination games in Round 2, while the other two benefited from nine days of rest courtesy of a double bye.
In this year’s semifinals, the top four-seeded teams advanced:
No. 1 Washington Mystics (26-8)
No. 2 Connecticut Sun (23-11)
No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks (22-12)
No. 4 Las Vegas Aces (21-13)
Only the Sparks have won a WNBA championship — in 2016, the year Nneka Ogwumike was named league MVP and Candace Parker was named Finals MVP. Just last year, the Mystics were close. After losing in the semifinals from 2013-17 (except for 2016, the year they did not make the postseason), the Mystics clinched their first Finals bid in 2018, where they were swept 3-0 by the Seattle Storm.
In the Mike Thibault era of the Sun (2003-12), Connecticut made several appearances in conference semifinals and conference finals but struggled to advance. In the one year they creaked through (2005), the Sun were felled by the Sacramento Monarchs 3-1. The Sun struggled from 2013-16, three seasons under the late Anne Donovan and one under Curt Miller. But Miller’s young squad started to click in 2017, leading the Sun to the postseason in consecutive seasons where they were bounced by the Phoenix Mercury. With the Mercury out of the picture, the Sun have earned a five-game series in the semifinals.
Through four names changes in the franchise’s history, the Aces — then the San Antonio Silver Stars — made the WNBA Finals once, in 2008, under then-coach Dan Hughes. They were swept 3-0 by the Detroit Shock. Since 2013, the team qualified for the postseason just once (2014, under Hughes as the San Antonio Stars), where they were swept by the Minnesota Lynx in the conference semis. The franchise poured a lot into getting the Aces to their first semifinals in five years, including selecting three-straight No. 1 draft picks, moving to Las Vegas and acquiring Liz Cambage. It will be interesting to see if those efforts pay off now, or in the future.
“Now” thrusts the Aces into a best-of-five battle against the top-seeded Mystics, the best offensive team in the league. But as the league’s best defensive team, the Aces can contend and make it an exciting series — if they clean up their persistent execution errors. The Sparks, seeded below the Sun, begin their series on the road — L.A. has the worst road record of this year’s playoff teams. The Sun — with a 15-2 home record, the best in the league — have a chance to gain a 2-0 series advantage against the veteran, former champion Sparks, who also are 15-2 at home.
Stay tuned for comprehensive previews of both series!
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