Welcome to the WNBA, where the playoffs are WILD. On Sunday, the final day of the season, the playoff bracket was secured with eight teams going through. Now it’s Friday, there have been two days of basketball since then, and the field has been cut in half. Welcome to mayhem, aka the WNBA playoff format.
If you’re wondering what happened, I’m going to break it down for you in a second, but I want to talk a little more about this format. In many sports, including the NBA, you have playoff series, not games. There may be a single-elimination game for a wildcard spot or a first round but generally, teams play a best of five or best of seven series. This evens the playing field and allows the better team to rise to the top and allows for teams to have a bad day.
In the WNBA, we don’t get a playoff series until the semifinals, which is the third round of the playoffs. The first two rounds are single-elimination, loser-goes-home games. There is an excitement to these games; the stakes could not be higher for the teams who are playing. Intensity is through the roof and it adds an element of cutthroatness (is that a word? I’m going to pretend it’s a word) to the playoffs. It also means that regular season seeding is really important, because the best two seeds get byes all the way to the semis and the third and fourth seeds get byes into the second round.
BUT it means that really, really good teams go home way too early. It means that if a great team has a bad day—like the Los Angeles Sparks did last night against the Sun, with their rock Nneka Ogwumike out with a migraine—they’re shit outta luck. It also means that as fans, we are robbed of more really great basketball. So here’s my petition to keep the single-elimination first round for the 5-8 seeds and make the rest of the rounds a series. The players deserve it and so do the fans (and I’m not the only one who feels this way).
Now, onto good stuff.
Let’s quickly raise a glass to the ones we lost
Chicago Sky: The Sky started their season off with a bang but struggled in the end. They lost Diamond DeSheilds midway through, though she never looked totally healthy, and the team just didn’t look as sharp as they did at the beginning. While Courtney Vandersloot set a single-game assist record and became the first player in WNBA history to average 10 assists a game (insert screaming emoji), the Chicago offense could not find a way past the defense of the Connecticut Sun and they went out in the first round.
Washington Mystics: The Mystics were improbable to even *make* the playoffs, and their entrance into the postseason game down to the last game of the season. The team was without most of their superstars this year, including former MVP Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and Tina Charles, and they were decimated by injury. They went on a 1-12 run in the middle of the season and it looked to be over for them. At the end of the year, Myisha Hines-Allen put the team on her back and willed them into the playoffs. They lost in devastating fashion to the Phoenix Mercury (more on that in a second), being eliminated in the first round.
Phoenix Mercury: The Mercury beat the Mystics in the first round of the playoffs, not on the back of Diana Taurasi or Skylar Diggins-Smith, the two players that carried the team through the season, but on an improbable buzzer-beater by Shey Peddy. Peddy was a WNBA rookie last year at 30 years old, playing with the Washington Mystics. The Mystics cut her earlier this season and she was picked up by the Mercury. It would be Peddy who made the shot at the buzzer against her old team to usher her new team to the next round of the playoffs. Sadly, their playoff run would end one game later when they lost by a single point to the Minnesota Lynx in round two.
— Shey Peddy (@SheyP11) September 16, 2020
Los Angeles Sparks: Yikes is the only way to describe the end of the Sparks season. It’s not how anyone wants to go out. They lost to the Sun in the second round, being completely shut down by their defense and never quite looking like a well-functioning team on the floor. The odds were stacked against them, with Ogwumike out with a migraine and Sydney Wiese was newly back from an ankle injury. Despite a hell of an effort by Candace Parker, they couldn’t overcome the Sun.
Now, let’s look at who is left
Connecticut Sun: The Sun are the lowest seeded team left, but that seed is deceiving. Despite starting the season 0-5, the team is playing the best basketball they have all year. They picked a good time to find their groove. The slow start was due to several factors: the core of this team is mostly new. They made it all the way to the Finals last season, but much of that team is no longer in Connecticut, and with Jonquel Jones opting out this year, that left just Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas returning from that starting lineup. There was a shortened training camp this year, giving the new core little time to get used to each other, and, despite the addition of superstar DeWanna Bonner, they struggled to find their groove. And vet Briann January was late getting to the Wubble thanks to covid. Once the entire team was in place and everyone found their sea legs, they’ve been a real threat. In a different kind of year, they would never have been seeded so low. Don’t sleep on the Sun; remember, they thrive on your #disrespeCT. Anyway, have I mentioned Alyssa Thomas?
— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) September 18, 2020
Minnesota Lynx: The Lynx are coming in with a number four seed, a team that not a lot of people were talking about but were just quietly solid all year. Sylvia Fowles is back from injury and rookie Crystal Dangerfield has surprised everyone by truly carrying the team at times (more on her in a minute). Coach Cheryl Reeve won Coach of the Year this season, leading an all-women coaching staff of former players, something she intentionally did once she realized that in hiring male assistant coaches who were then pipe-lined to head coach positions, she was helping create the gender disparity in coaching and is trying to rectify that. A lot of people thought they’d go down to the Merc, but they didn’t and now they’re here. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Napheesa Collier (and the podcast she has with A’ja Wilson called “Tea with A and Phee”).
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 17, 2020
Seattle Storm: The Storm are an easy team to root for because they’re good and because they’re likable. With Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird anchoring them and a running list of who’s who in the league behind them, including Jordin Canada, Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark, and Jewell Loyd (remember that buzzer-beater from last week???), the number two seed is a threat to whoever they’re playing. The question is whether Stewart and Bird, who have been plagued by injuries, will be themselves.
Las Vegas Aces: The Aces come in seeded number one, behind 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson. Wilson can do it all, not dominated in any one particular spot but just constantly making things happen on either end of the floor for her team. They secured the number one seed in their final game of the season—when they beat the Storm. Kayla McBride, Jackie Young, and Dearica Hamby are always solid, Danielle Robinson is playing the best basketball of her career, and Angel McCoughtry has made a mark her first season in Vegas, being a key presence in a year the team was missing star players Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum.
Play continues with the semifinals on Sunday, when the Sun takes on the Aces and the Lynx will face the Storm. See you there.
This is now a Crystal Dangerfield Appreciation column
I realize that I have not yet introduced you to Crystal Dangerfield. That was an oversight, and I’m going to rectify that right now. She was just named Rookie of the Year, which gives me a great excuse to talk about her. Dangerfield was drafted in the second round, which makes her the first second round draft pick in WNBA history to win ROY. She’s small, she’s quick, she’s humble, and she came out of nowhere to lead her Lynx team. Here she is after putting up 15 points in the second half yesterday to help her team overcome the Mercury:
— Lyndsey D'Arcangelo (@darcangel21) September 18, 2020
When she was announced as ROY, she told WNBA journalist Ari Chambers that the first people she called were her family and her girlfriend. Now, Dangerfield and her girlfriend are THE CUTEST, and we will get there, but I want to take a second to explain how significant it is that a rookie, fresh out of the homophobic environment of NCAA women’s basketball, feels comfortable enough to casually talk about her girlfriend publicly. It is a testament to the inclusive and welcoming environment that the league and its players have created that Dangerfield can so comfortably be herself.
Now, onto her girlfriend, who changed her Twitter handle to “Crystal’s ROY Trophy / Her #1 Fan” and I just CANNOT WITH THE CUTENESS.
VERY proud ❤️ https://t.co/I1sYKZoX79
— Crystal’s ROY Trophy/ Her #1 Fan🏆 (@michelledsmoot) September 17, 2020
II don’t even have anything better than that, so I’m going to leave you with it to be weepy and in your gay feelings about it all.