Who’s number four? That was the most pressing question on this final Sunday of WNBA regular-season action.
The results of last week’s games determined the Washington Mystics would be the one seed, the Connecticut Sun the two seed and the Los Angeles Sparks the three seed; however, a disappointing loss by the Las Vegas Aces in Atlanta and a comeback win for the Chicago Sky in Connecticut left the elusive fourth seed undetermined.
Could the star-studded Aces rebound to earn the first-round bye and the right to host their second-round game? Or would the upstart Sky steal the privileges that come with the fourth seed?
The Aces it is!
Because the Sky lost to the Mystics, the fourth seed belonged to the Aces, regardless of whether or not they defeated the Mercury. Vegas did manage to pull out the win in Phoenix, 98-89. They will receive the first-round bye and host the highest-seeded team in Sin City for a second-round single-elimination game.
The Sky will host their first-round matchup, meeting the eighth-seeded Mercury in Chicago on Wednesday, September 11 at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN2. The Seattle Storm will host the other first-round game, welcoming the seventh-seeded Minnesota Lynx to the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday night, with the game scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Here’s a quick look at how the league’s eight playoff teams fared on Sunday and down the stretch this season.
1. Washington Mystics (26-8)
Stung by a sweep in last year’s WNBA Finals, the Mystics entered the 2019 season on a mission. For the regular season, they fulfilled this mission, setting a new franchise record for wins. They put together one of the most dominant offensive seasons in WNBA history, leveraging the power of the three to score with efficiency and, often, ease. Scarily, this offense has only improved over the course of the season, with the likes of Emma Meesseman, Natasha Cloud and Aerial Powers (and basically everyone except the injured Kristi Toliver) playing more effectively and efficiently since the All-Star break. And, of course, they have a masked marvel who will likely earn her second MVP award. Elena Delle Donne scored 25 points in less than 25 minutes of action on Sunday, leading Washington to a dominating 100-86 win over Chicago. Delle Donne also became the first player in WNBA history to post at 40-50-90 season, meaning she shot better than 40% from three, better than 50% from the field and better than 90% from the free throw line. More precisely, EDD put up a 43.0-51.5-97.4 season.
TASH⏩ EMMA ⏩ EDD ⏩ BUCKET pic.twitter.com/XEpmabdO7C— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 8, 2019
2. Connecticut Sun (23-11)
Consistency has been a hallmark for the Sun this season. The starting five of Jasmine Thomas, Courtney Williams, Shekinna Stricklen, Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones have performed at a high-level on both ends of the floor. In August, their all-around play reached greater heights, as Courtney Williams elevated her game, increasing her scoring and distributing numbers while still causing disruptions defensively. Improved play off the bench also raised the Sun’s ceiling. Bria Holmes has found her form after missing all of last season on maternity leave, using her frenetic energy to good effect. Rookie Natisha Hiedeman likewise has used her athleticism, as well as a nice shooting stroke, to bolster the Sun’s second unit. On Sunday, however, Connecticut did not bring their brand of consistent, winning basketball to Indiana, falling 104-76. Locked into the two seed, head coach Curt Miller limited the minutes of his starters, ensuring the Sun will begin their semi-final playoff series rested and healthy.
3. Los Angeles Sparks (22-12)
The Sparks often seem like two different teams, and not only due to the significant injuries and absences they have suffered. Throughout the season, LA has been excellent at home, regardless of who was or was not available to play. On the road, the Sparks have struggled. They were at home on Sunday so, unsurprisingly, they looked sharp, claiming a confidence-boosting 77-68 win over the Lynx. Already having earned the three-seed and a first-round bye, LA used the matchup with Minnesota to fine tune their attack and dial up their defense. As she has done throughout the season, Chelsea Gray balanced excitement and effectiveness, scoring 14 points and dishing eight assists. During Sunday’s victory, other members of the Sparks also demonstrated how their contributions can combine make Los Angeles so dangerous. Riquna Williams got buckets in bunches, while Nneka Ogwumike, returning the action after a recent illness, provided an every-steady effort. Candace Parker flashed her diverse skill set, with Chiney Ogwumike providing energy plays off the bench.
4. Las Vegas Aces (21-13)
When A’ja Wilson returned in early August, it appeared the Aces were ready to ascend, using their firepower to grab a top-two seed. Yet, inconsistencies soon arose, resulting in Vegas entering the postseason with more questions than answers. How will head coach Bill Laimbeer manage his bigs rotation in order to maximize Wilson, Liz Cambage, and Dearica Hamby? Will Kelsey Plum return to the starting lineup or remain an off-the-bench spark? Can Kayla McBride, whose shooting percentages have slipped, rediscover her stroke? Sunday’s 98-89 win over Phoenix showed signs of promise. Both Wilson and Cambage found success scoring the ball, contributing 20 and 21 points, respectively. Hamby also added 12 points and eight rebounds. However, Plum failed to find a scoring groove, converting only 4 of her 13 shot attempts. McBride also performed far below her peak, scoring nine points on nine shot attempts.
5. Chicago Sky (20-14)
The Sky have more than proved their early season success was not a fluke, when the team racked up early wins over relatively weak opponents. Since the All-Star Break, Chicago has burnished their bona fides, grabbing impressive victories over the league’s elite. In particular, Courtney Vandersloot has raised her play, inserting herself in the MVP conversation. But on Sunday, Vandersloot and the Sky did not play with the poise and promise that has defined them down the stretch. They fell in uninspiring fashion to the Mystics, 100-86. Nonetheless, Chicago still should enter their first-round playoff matchup with confidence. Their combination of a dynamic offense and determined attitude, traits epitomized by the electric Diamond DeShields, makes them a dangerous matchup for any team.
6. Seattle Storm (18-16)
Down one MVP and one legend, Seattle did not fold, or even flounder. Instead, the Storm formed an identity around their defensive prowess, which propelled them not only to a playoff berth but also to home court advantage in the first round. 2018 Most Improved Player Natasha Howard took another leap, showing that she can be the number one offensive option all while still making an impact defensively. Jordin Canada also demonstrated her ability to influence the action on both ends of the floor, using her speed put pressure on her opponent as a driver or defender. Although scoring the basketball has been a struggle at times this season, the Storm can also ignite, using the three-ball to run up the score. On Sunday, Seattle effectively combined defense and offense to defeat to Dallas, 78-64. Particularly promising was the play of Jewell Loyd, who closed out an uneven regular season with a strong shooting performance, going four of six from three on her way to 16 points. Howard led the Storm with 22 points and nine rebounds.
7. Minnesota Lynx (18-16)
Despite their inability to steal a win in Los Angeles and secure the sixth seed, the Lynx’s 2019 regular season was a surprising success. With a combination of new faces and old standbys, Minnesota earned a ninth-straight playoff berth. While Cheryl Reeve’s decision to bring in Odyssey Sims and Lexie Brown re-energized her squad, it was the drafting of Napheesa Collier that elevated them. While she has played with professional precocity since the start of the season, she also has improved over the course of the season, establishing herself as the go-to scorer and lockdown defender that the Lynx relied on late in the season. On Sunday, Collier prevented the Sparks from pulling away. In the 77-68 loss, she posted a double-double, scoring a team-high 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. And although her numbers are down, Sylvia Fowles has remained a force, subtly retooling her game in order to continue to make an impact. She had 12 points and nine rebounds on Sunday.
8. Phoenix Mercury (15-19)
Even with Diana Taurasi missing more of the season than expected, the Mercury underachieved. On Sunday, they finished the regular season with a fourth-straight loss, falling to the Aces, 98-89. As she has done throughout the season, Brittney Griner got buckets, putting up a game-high 24 points to secure the 2019 WNBA scoring title. So did DeWanna Bonner, scoring 14 points. Yet, good numbers from the All-Star pair once again did not translate to a win. Even significantly improved play from Lelani Mitchell, who may well become the first player in WNBA history to win the Most Improved Player award twice, did not help Phoenix find themselves in the win column more consistently this season. In order to advance in the playoffs, it appears the Mercury must hope for a throwback performance from DT, who did not play on Sunday due to hamstring soreness.