The second round of the WNBA Playoffs tips off on Thursday night, and if round one was any indication, things are going to get crazy. Following an abbreviated 22-game season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, the playoffs began on Tuesday in their traditional format: single elimination for the first two rounds, then best-of-five series for the semifinals and WNBA Finals.
In the first round, the Connecticut Sun eliminated the Chicago Sky in a 94-81 victory. Powered by Alyssa “Playoff A.T.” Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, the Sun took care of the Sky rather easily. For Chicago, their 2020 season came to an untimely end; the Sky entered the year with championship dreams, but they couldn’t score when it mattered and their interior presence was not strong enough against Connecticut.
.@SheyP11 WINS IT AT THE BUZZER!
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 16, 2020
Later in the night, the Phoenix Mercury looked set to go home as the Washington Mystics — who captured the eighth seed at the very end of the regular season — led the entire game with some impeccable play. But don’t ever count Diana Taurasi out in a do-or-die playoff game. Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith came to life in the fourth quarter, and in the end, it was former Mystic Shey Peddy who knocked down a three-point shot at the buzzer to send Phoenix into the second round. Talk about ice cold revenge on the team that waived her earlier this season.
Here’s what we can expect to see in the second round:
Phoenix Mercury (No. 5) vs. Minnesota Lynx (No. 4): 7 p.m on ESPN2
The Mercury rose from the ashes to come back and defeat the Mystics, but the Lynx are a much bigger test for Phoenix. The two teams split their regular season series, with the Lynx winning the first game 90-80 and the Mercury winning the second 83-79. Minnesota, led by Coach of the Year candidate Cheryl Reeve, have exceeded expectations this season and looked confident on their way to collecting the No. 4 seed. The Lynx will also have three extra days of rest on the Mercury, after securing a first-round bye.
The No. 16 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, Crystal Dangerfield has been a joy to watch this season, as she played beyond her years to secure the starting point guard position for the Lynx. The 5’5 guard averaged 16.2 points, 3.6 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game this season and is a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. During the regular season, Minnesota was a top-five team in offensive and defensive rating on the floor. With a healthy combination of veteran leadership from Sylvia Fowles and Renee Montgomery, an MVP candidate in Napheesa Collier and excellent role players like Damiris Dantas, Minnesota is an all-around dangerous team.
Though the Mercury will be without Brittney Griner, who left the Wubble for personal reasons, and Bria Hartley, who was a revelation this season before suffering an ACL injury, they have proved that they are still a very formidable opponent — especially in a single-elimination game. Diggins-Smith has proven that she is hungry for a title, Taurasi looks healthy again and players like Peddy, Brianna Turner and Kia Vaughn will need to keep up their solid performances if Phoenix is to get past Minnesota.
Connecticut Sun (No. 7) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (No. 3):9 p.m. on ESPN2
Connecticut had the worst start to the 2020 WNBA season, losing their first five games before roaring back to finish with an 10-12 overall record and the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. And powered by the strength and leadership of Thomas and Bonner — two bigs who have proven themselves more than capable of creating their own shot — the Sun sent the Sky packing in the first round. But the Sparks are a much tougher challenge, with a deep roster of Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, Seimone Augustus, Chelsea Gray, Sydney Wiese and more. But then again, Curt Miller is a better basketball coach than Derek Fisher (yes, I said it).
Against Chicago, Connecticut was able to have their way in the paint, scoring buckets at will and easily outrebounding the Sky. The Sparks, despite their size, have not been a very good rebounding time this season — they had the fewest rebounds in the regular season — so look out for that all-important battle on the glass.
At the same time, Brittney Sykes — a 5’9 guard — and Candace Parker have been instrumental defensively for the Sparks, helping L.A. to the third-highest defensive rating in the league. In their two meetings this season, the Sparks bested the Sun both times by scores of 81-76 and 80-76, respectively. So definitely expect this to be a high-scoring affair as the Sun look to get revenge against the Sparks on Thursday night.