Two games. One close, one blowout. But the end result was the same: the home teams swept their lower-seeded opponents to punch their ticket to the semifinals.
New York survives OT
The night began with an early candidate for “Game of the Playoffs” when the No. 2 seed New York Liberty beat the No. 7 seed Washington Mystics 90-85 in overtime to not only win Game 2 but also sweep the series and earn a semifinal appearance for the first time since 2015.
The game was competitive throughout, but things intensified when Washington rallied to take the lead in the early minutes of the fourth quarter. With under two minutes left, both teams exchanged baskets, with New York getting key shots from Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart and Washington’s Brittney Sykes hitting a ridiculous bank shot corner 3 to tie the game with 33 seconds left.
After both teams hit a couple of free throws, the game headed to overtime, where the Liberty squeaked out the victory. The Mystics had a critical turnover with 14.1 seconds left when Sykes lost control of her handle to give the ball back to New York. Stewart hit her free throws and a feeble attempt by Ariel Atkins to tie the game missed, allowing the Liberty to escape with a win.
Washington fought valiantly, led by Natasha Cloud putting on a masterclass on both sides of the floor. She aggravated Sabrina Ionescu all night, forcing her to go 4-for-11 from the field. Cloud also scored a game-high 33 points in the loss. A dejected and emotional Cloud talked through tears postgame. “I’ve been in DC for eight years. This is the only team that looked at me coming out of college. It is the only coaching staff that believed in me... to be where I am today, to be where my feet are today, I’m really proud,” Cloud shared.
After a lackluster Game 1 performance, Breanna Stewart bounced back with 27 points and nine rebounds. She also went a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line. Courtney Vandersloot also deserves a spotlight. During the high-pressure moments of the fourth quarter and overtime, the point guard often had the ball in her hands. She had the highest plus-minus on the team with a plus-nine as she scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Ultimately, New York was too deep and talented to lose a game at home. They survived a Game 1 where Stewart only scored 10 points thanks to Jones stepping up with a double-double. In Game 2, a struggling Ionescu got help from Stewart and Jones to again allow New York to come out victorious. The Liberty had more room for error, while the Mystics needed everything to go right to pull off an upset. Washington got close in Game 2, but a few untimely Sykes turnovers and a fourth-quarter injury to Elena Delle-Donne were too much to overcome. They were far better than their 19-21 record, but, ultimately, the result was the same: They are going home not for a Game 3, but for exit interviews.
The Liberty now await the winner of Game 3 between the No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun and No. 6 seed No. 6 Minnesota Lynx to learn their semifinal opponent. The series will begin Sunday, Sep. 24 at 1 p.m. ET (ESPN).
Dallas dominates Dream
The Dallas Wings advance and will face the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces in the semifinals pic.twitter.com/OnrdurfMxt— espnW (@espnW) September 20, 2023
While the opening game was a thriller, this one was domination. The No. 4 seed Dallas Wings defeated the No. 5 seed Atlanta Dream 101-74 with a whopping seven players in double figures. Arike Ogunbowale shined brightest in the Game 2 closeout, scoring 20 points and shooting 46 percent from the field. The Wings bench mob also came up big, with Awak Kuier and Kalani Brown combining for 25 points to outscore the entire Atlanta bench.
Rhyne Howard contributed 21 points for Atlanta and Allisha Gray had an efficient 19 point and seven-rebound night, but a slow offensive second quarter opened the game up for Dallas and they never looked back, ending Atlanta’s season.
The Wings didn’t just get great offensive performances, the defensive end was just as strong. Satou Sabally had a monster two-handed block on Cheyenne Parker. The team combined for nine steals and held the Dream to 41.2 percent shooting from the field. That field goal percentage could’ve been overcome if Atlanta grabbed some rebounds, but they only had five offensive rebounds and lost the battle of the boards 41-28. Add all that up and the only result you get is precisely what happened—a blowout loss on the road.
When Ogunbowale gets going and gets help from her supporting cast, a loss is the most likely outcome. She’s just too lethal and draws so much attention, and with Sabally equally as talented, the Wings have a one-two punch that is in the conversation as the best two-player pairing in the WNBA.
That pairing will face its biggest test against the defending champion Las Vegas Aces in the second round which starts on Sunday, Sep. 24 at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN 2). While Dallas might not have enough depth to keep up with the Aces’ roster, it will be fun watching Ogunbowale and Sabally give it a go.