On the final day of the WNBA regular season, the Storm and Aces met for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
It couldn’t have worked out better.
On a jam packed day of sports from leagues across the country, the WNBA had one of the most marquee matchups, aiming in the middle of a Sunday on ABC. Just a few years ago, it would have been outlandish to think the WNBA – and a regular season game at that – would be shown on one of the four basic stations nationwide on the first day ever that the WNBA, NFL, MLB, NBA, MLS and NHL all play on the same date (coronavirus notwithstanding).
Those who chose to tune in to this possible WNBA Finals preview weren’t let down.
Again, it couldn’t have worked out better.
The Storm took original control, with Alysha Clark stating her dominance with double-figure first quarter scoring before an injury took her out of the game for a portion of the second. While Clark left the floor, though, the Aces responded, slowing down Seattle’s scoring and spreading out its own offensive attack. Though the Storm led 27-20 after the opening period and Las Vegas trailed by as many as 10 in the first half, the Aces held a slim halftime advantage, 46-44.
Seattle was without Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, and Jewell Loyd and Natasha Howard collectively had a tough scoring half, combing for eight points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field. Clark picked up the slack, shooting a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and draining all four of her three-point attempts. Her 16 points led all scorers at the break.
The Aces brought a much more balanced attack, per usual. A’ja Wilson was the top driver, notching 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, but seven other players managed at least one point in the first 20 minutes. Danielle Robinson and Dearica Hamby had nine points each, too, with Robinson surpassing her per-game average (7.1) in half the time. Needless to say, the Aces flexed their depth.
Seattle attacked more aggressively in the third quarter, with Jordin Canada and Loyd driving hard to the basket and earning plenty of trips to the charity stripe as a result. The Aces were given many opportunities from the line, too, and fans were treated to a whistle fest of a middle period. In total, 24 free throws were attempted (15 for Seattle, nine for Las Vegas).
Loyd especially took advantage of the whistles, using her driving ability to help turn around her day. She struggled in the first half, but by the end of the third quarter, she had 23 points to her name with a 10-of-12 mark from the free-throw line. Her efforts helped propel Seattle to a 66-64 lead heading into the final 10 minutes.
The fourth quarter continued to show why these have been the best two teams in the league all season long. Both teams did a great job of punishing defensive mistakes, converting at the free-throw line and exploiting any time and space awarded for shooters and cutters. Back and forth the teams went, trading great plays on both ends of the floor, making me hope we get five games of these two going at each other’s throats for the WNBA championship.
The game came down to the final few possessions. With 44.2 seconds remaining, Seattle called timeout following a defensive rebound and down 82-79. A weaving Canada found Howard on the wing for an opportunity to tie the game, but it went in and out, and Vegas nabbed the board. On the other end, Wilson got a touch in the middle of the floor for the second possession in a row, but this time she didn’t pass and capitalized herself. A big dribble took her that much closer in the paint, and her runner connected to put the Aces up two possessions with 17.2 ticks to go.
Loyd didn’t care.
Seattle ran Loyd off a screen for a turnaround three from the top of the key. She launched it before even fully turning around, yet somehow the prayer found the bottom of the net, cutting the deficit to two only seconds later. Kayla McBride hit her two free throws to extend the lead back to four, but Loyd again didn’t care. Canada whipped an arrow pass to Loyd in the corner for a triple on the next possession, and it met nylon again, bringing the score to 86-84 with 3.4 seconds left.
But the Aces stayed cool, and a smart inbounds play let Vegas run off almost all of the clock, and even after a bizarre lane violation gave the Storm a glimmer of hope, no miracles occurred. The Aces got it done, 86-84, to close the regular season.
No Liz Cambage, no Kelsey Plum, and the Aces are still the No. 1 seed in the 2020 WNBA Playoffs.
Vegas and Seattle both finished 18-4, but with the head-to-head series going to the Aces, Bill Laimbeer’s team gets the No. 1 nod. The Storm will have to settle for No. 2. Both teams have a double bye to the semifinals of the playoffs.
These two teams have been the best in the W all season long, and it would be a treat to see them again in a five-game series to determine the champion. The Storm put up a great fight without two of the best players ever in Bird and Stewart, and the Aces barely played Angel McCoughtry to keep her fresh for the postseason. We weren’t even treated to best both sides have to offer, and yet this game on the final day of the regular season helped sum up so much of the excitement these coming playoffs have to offer.
Playoffs in just two days!