What a difference a couple of weeks makes.
The Las Vegas Aces (30-5), a team that was beginning to make a case as the greatest WNBA team ever, has begun to look pedestrian. They lost 78-62 against the Washington Mystics (16-18) on Saturday and are 3-3 in their last six games. They now hold just a 2.5-game advantage over the New York Liberty for the top seed in the WNBA playoffs.
Speaking of New York (27-7), they also played Saturday, but, unlike Las Vegas, came out victorious, beating the Minnesota Lynx (16-18) on the road, 111-76. Breanna Stewart was sensational, scoring 38 points in the win.
The Aces were Mystified
Getting everyone’s best effort has begun to lead to more losses for Vegas. Washington protected home court on Saturday, giving Las Vegas their fifth loss of the year. Before the game, it was uncertain if Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud and Queen Egbo would be available. All ended up cleared and Delle Donne shined brightest, scoring 21 points on 60 percent shooting, with nine of those points coming in the closing quarter.
It wasn't just the Delle Donne show, however. Washington's guard duo of Brittney Sykes and Ariel Atkins came to play. Atkins scored 16 points as she went 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, while Sykes added 16 points in the win.
Washington withstood every Las Vegas run, holding the lead throughout the fourth quarter thanks to a five-point run to start the final frame that gave the Mystics a nine-point cushion.
Las Vegas struggled offensively all night, scoring just 62 points for their second-lowest point total of the season. This defeat also eliminated them from attaining the best regular-season winning percentage in WNBA history. If they win out the rest of the way, they'll end up with a .875 winning percentage, falling just short of the .900 record set by the 1998 Houston Comets.
Liberty stood tall against the Lynx
The New York Liberty are the best team in basketball.
They are Commissioner‘s Cup champs and have won nine of their last 10 games, including Saturday night’s 111-76 thrashing of the Minnesota Lynx. The result was never in question as New York had four double-digit scorers and led by as many as 43 points. Stewart was a star among stars with her 38-point performance. Sabrina Ionescu pitched in 19 points on 70 pecent shooting, with Betnijah Laney and Courtney Vandersloot adding 15 points a piece to help the Liberty waltz to victory.
The Lynx didn't get enough from their starting five. Napheesa Collier had 10 points in 20 minutes and Kayla McBride managed just nine points on 40 percent shooting. A big game for McBride was needed to even have a puncher's chance against this East Coast super team. That performance didn't happen, making a home blowout a near inevitability.
The top two teams face off once again on Monday when the New York Liberty host the Las Vegas Aces at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN 2. A victory by New York would very much put Las Vegas’ claim on the top seed in jeopardy, whereas an Aces win would create enough separation to make the Liberty taking the top spot unrealistic. The tension, team quality and playoff implications make this a must-see game.
The Lynx next meet the Mystics at home as they try to get back to .500 on the season. For Washington, a win would even them with Minnesota in the standings and make the middle-of-the-pack race for playoff seeding that much tighter. That game will be on Tuesday at 7 p.m. EDT on NBA TV.
With many games having huge playoff ramifications, it’s great to see games on national television. Hopefully, it puts new and bigger sets of eyes on the WNBA product.