Sunday’s double dose of Game 2s, with the No. 6 seed Minnesota Lynx taking on the No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun and the No. 8 seed Chicago Sky seeking to upset the No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces, gave WNBA fans one thriller and one (mostly) thrashing.
Behind the dynamic duo of Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride, the Lynx forced a Game 3 back in Minnesota, escaping Connecticut with the 82-75 win. In Las Vegas, outside of a brief fourth-quarter burst from the Sky, it was all Aces, as 38 points from A’ja Wilson allowed the defending champs to finish their first-round series in a tidy two games with a 92-70 win.
Behind a combined 54 points from Collier and McBride, the Lynx force Game 3
Head coach Cheryl Reeve’s demonstrative dissatisfaction with her team’s Game 1 performance clearly penetrated. Minnesota came out looking like a different team, prepared to play with the presence necessary not only to compete with Connecticut but also to prevail with a 82-75 win that sends the series to a Game 3 in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
After struggling in Game 1, Napheesa Collier captained the Lynx’s improved effort. From the tip, she played with high activity on both ends of the floor. On offense, she was assertive. In addition to getting buckets in the post or out of isolation, she generated scoring opportunities for her team as a ball handler and screener in various pick-and-roll combinations. Behind Collier’s 16 first-half points, the Lynx led by three points after the first quarter before extending their advantage to five points, 44-39, at halftime.
The Lynx also received an early boost from Kayla McBride, who went 4-for-6 from behind the arc on her way to 14 first-half points. Minnesota also benefitted from more composed, patient play from Diamond Miller. The rookie also showed that she would not be pushed around, standing up to fellow former Maryland Terrapin Alyssa Thomas after Thomas baptized Miller with an elbow to the neck as the two tussled for a rebound as the first half drew to a close.
Diamond Miller's energy >> pic.twitter.com/1LJ41iUU24— Tyler DeLuca (@TylerDeLuca) September 17, 2023
Thomas left her imprint on more than Miller. Connecticut’s MVP candidate put pressure on Minnesota with several tough drives to the basket, with 11 points, four boards and three assists before the halftime break. But it was her partner, DeWanna Bonner, who provided the offensive output needed to keep pace with the Lynx; she matched McBride with four first-half 3s, contributing to her 18 first-half points. Outside of Bonner, the Sun’s scoring was subpar, a significant difference from Game 1’s scintillating shooting.
Knowing Connecticut would come out of the break with increased focused, Collier made sure to maintain her aggression, beginning the half by earning a trip to the foul line before hitting a driving layup. However, less than two minutes into the third, Collier headed to the bench with what would be reported as a lower back injury. Suddenly, the Lynx’s slim lead—and their 2023 season—seemed in jeopardy, as Minnesota instantly was out of sorts without their star. Fortunately for Lynx fans, Collier elected to play through the discomfort, with her mere presence providing a sense of stability. Soon after Collier returned to the court, McBride unleashed one of her signature scoring bursts, which propelled Minnesota to a 16-point lead with approximately three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Thomas and Connecticut, of course, would not go quietly. In the latter minutes of the third period, the game’s physicality increased exponentially, with players on both sides suffering bumps and bruises. Tiffany Mitchell temporarily exited with an ankle injury, while an elbow to the face drew blood from Bonner. In this environment, Thomas thrived, spearheading the Connecticut comeback. The Sun cut the margin to five points entering the fourth quarter.
A scoreless five minutes for the Lynx reduced their lead to two points when Bridget Carleton nailed a corner 3. And after a mostly quiet second half, Collier again emerged as the crux of the Lynx’s offensive attack, hitting a number of critical buckets. McBride also continued to pour in the points. The duo dropped a combined 54 points; 28 for McBride and 26 Collier.
KMAC PHEE— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) September 17, 2023
50 COMBINED PTS FOR THESE TWO pic.twitter.com/tQbjua3iEE
On the other side, the Sun’s most glaring weakness—halfcourt offense—stalled their comeback. The Connecticut offense devolved into a series of tough shots from Bonner, with not enough of them finding the bottom of the net. She finished with 24 points, while Thomas led the Sun with 26 points.
The series now heads to Minnesota for a decisive Game 3 on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN).
The Aces kick start their title defense with a sweep of the Sky
Oftentimes, it seemed like the Aces were not playing against the Sky but against WNBA history. Records were matched and mastered as Vegas resisted any unnecessary drama, sweeping Chicago in a manner expected of a defending champion determined to be the first team to win back-to-back titles in 21 seasons.
As our Edwin Garcia noted in his preview of Game 2, the Sky had no solution for A’ja Wilson. And she was a PROBLEM on Sunday afternoon. Wilson wasted no time asserting her presence, powering through defenders for 19 first-half points. She added nine rebounds and four blocks across the game’s first two frames. The swats elevated her to seventh all-time in postseason blocks.
A look at the block that moved her into 7th All-Time ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/AZUmvYq429— WNBA (@WNBA) September 17, 2023
Chelsea Gray also inked her name in the W’s postseason record books, passing her head coach, Becky Hammon, for the most postseason assists in Aces franchise history. In WNBA postseason history, Gray advanced to seventh all time.
The Aces also were dialed in defensively, preventing Courtney and Elizabeth Williams from working their two-woman game and forcing Kahleah Copper to attempt difficult isolation shots. Copper scored seven first-half points on nine shots. The Sky did not simply roll over; they just were overwhelmed. The Aces led comfortably, 44-29, at the half.
The third quarter featured more of the same, as Wilson added 14 more points to her total and the Aces enjoyed a 69-45 lead entering the fourth quarter. However, at the outset of the game’s final frame, Chicago’s spirit began to translate on the scoreboard. A 17-2 run by the Sky sliced the Aces’ advantage to nine points, 71-62, with just over six minutes remaining. Copper and Dana Evans were the driving forces for Chicago, each scoring 10 points in the fourth. After her inefficient start, Copper recovered to score a team-high 25 points. She also grabbed 10 rebounds, fulfilling the do-it-all superstar role she has occupied for the Sky throughout the 2023 season.
Although more than enough time to complete the comeback, Vegas soon responded to Chicago’s spurt, allowing the Sky to score only eight more points as they added 20 more to their total. The Aces thus cruised to the 92-70 victory and 2-0 series sweep, giving them a week off before retaking the court in Vegas next Sunday for the start of their semifinal series.
Wilson finished her phenomenal afternoon with franchise playoff-record 38 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks and three steals. Jackie Young added 15 points, six assists and five boards, while Chelsea Gray notched nine points and nine assists.