There’s not much more than can be said about the ending to the second round matchup between Las Vegas and Chicago. In one of the most memorable finishes you’ll ever seen, the Aces stomped on Sky hearts with a chuck from Dearica Hamby late off a steal to give her team the decisive one point advantage, 93-92. But I can’t do it justice. You have to see it for yourself.
And with that, Las Vegas advanced to the semifinals and is now set to take on the top-seeded Washington Mystics. The No. 3 seed Los Angeles Sparks will join those two and take on the Connecticut Sun in the semifinals after stomping out Seattle, 92-69, in significantly less dramatic fashion.
From here on out, there’s no more single elimination, it’s best-of-five series only. It will be the league’s four best from the regular season, first to three wins, just two advance and only one will be smiling in the end. Let’s take a look at the schedule for the 2019 WNBA Playoffs Semifinals, then break down the matchups:
Tuesday, Sept. 17
3 Los Angeles at 2 Connecticut, Game 1 (6:30 p.m., ESPN2)
4 Las Vegas at 1 Washington, Game 1 (8:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Thursday, Sept. 19
3 Los Angeles at 2 Connecticut, Game 2 (6:30 p.m., ESPN2)
4 Las Vegas at 1 Washington, Game 2 (8:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Sunday, Sept. 22
1 Washington at 4 Las Vegas, Game 3 (5 p.m., ESPN2)
2 Connecticut at 3 Los Angeles, Game 3 (7 p.m., ESPN2)
If necessary, Game 4 of both series will be played Tuesday, Sept. 24, and each series’ Game 5 will come Thursday, Sept. 26. Times for those games are not yet announced.
4 Las Vegas vs 1 Washington
June 20 – Washington 95, Las Vegas 72 (1-0, WAS)
July 13 – Las Vegas 85, Washington 81 (1-1)
Aug. 5 – Washington 99, Las Vegas 70 (2-1, WAS)
The Mystics were the best team in the WNBA in the regular season, lead the league or are close to it in virtually every statistical category, and are the odds-on favorite to win the 2019 crown. Washington made its inaugural appearance in the WNBA Finals last year, falling to Seattle in three games, and now have its sights set on finishing the job for the first time.
Elena Delle Donne is having a historic season, completing the first 50-40-90 campaign ever in the WNBA on 51.5 percent shooting from the field, 43.0 percent marksmanship from beyond the arc and a 97.4 percent success at the free-throw line. She will be an absolute force for the Aces to deal with, and if she’s really on her game, she can take over and be the decisive factor by herself.
But it’s not just Delle Donne you have to worry about. As a whole, Washington averaged almost 90 points per game during the regular season and led the league in field-goal percentage, a narrow second by 0.1 percent in three-point shooting percentage (ironically behind Las Vegas only) and assists per contest, all while only turning the ball over 11.8 times per outing, the lowest mark in the W.
Looking at basic stats, you could point to the glass as somewhere the Aces could potentially find an advantage, but even if you look further there, you find that the Mystics managed a rebounding percentage of 51.4 during the regular season, third in the league and only slightly behind Las Vegas. With how efficient Washington is on the offensive end, it makes sense it wouldn’t have gaudy overall rebounding numbers, but the team clearly continues its efficiency in areas of the game than simply putting the ball in the basket.
Las Vegas has plenty of talent on its roster, too. Four of its players are scoring in double-figures, and although Kelsey Plum has been up and down with her point production, we know she is capable of lighting up the box score. In the second round against Chicago, all five of the team’s main scorers got into double-digits, which is something they’ll need to maintain in the series against Washington. If the Aces can get double-doubles out of A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage like they did against Chicago, coupling their twin towers to continue the painted area, and they get a similar output from their perimeter players, watch out.
Keep in mind, this is the same team that leads the WNBA in defensive rating (95.0), rebounding percentage (53.0) and opponent points in the paint (29.3). There’s a lot to like about the Aces, and they are absolutely capable of pulling this upset off. The problem is, we don’t always see the same Las Vegas squad that could argue as the best in the league, which can be a costly trait in a best-of-five situation. Sure, the Aces could take out the Mystics in a one-off, but can they do it over the course of a semifinals series?
3 Los Angeles vs 2 Connecticut
May 31 – Connecticut 70, Los Angeles 77 (1-0, LAS)
June 6 – Los Angeles 77, Connecticut 89 (1-1)
Aug. 25 – Connecticut 72, Los Angeles 84 (2-1, LAS)
The last two years, the second round was Connecticut’s undoing. But in 2019, the Sun didn’t have to bother with the single-elimination stages of the WNBA Playoffs. A 23-11 regular season record earned the team the No. 2 seed and a bye into the semifinals.
The team will play the No. 3 seed Los Angeles Sparks, the new home of Chiney Ogwumike, whom the Sun traded to L.A. for a first-round pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft in April in a massive blockbuster deal, adding a juicy storyline to what should already be a highly-competitive series.
Jonquel Jones and Shekinna Sticklen have stepped up to fill the void left by Ogwumike, Jones especially. The Bahamian averaged 14.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game during the regular season and asserted herself as one of the W’s best.
An area where Connecticut will have an advantage is on the glass, particularly offensive rebounding. The Sun boast the best offensive rebounding percentage in the league at 34.9, while the Sparks are near the bottom of the WNBA in defensive rebounding percentage at 66.7. With how Los Angeles shot and scored against Seattle in the second round, the Sun need to exploit this mismatch and notch as much second-chance points as possible, not to mention the physical and mental exhaustion you can impress of an opponent through dominating the offensive glass. Jones is averaging 3.3 offensive rebounds per outing, and three of her teammates are hauling in more than one per contest, too. That will be an important stat to follow throughout the course of this series.
The Sparks have to have the Sun a bit nervous after the way they played against the Storm on Sunday. Los Angeles shot 11-of-27 from deep (40.7 percent) and put up 92 points against one of the best defensive teams in the league. Riquna Williams, Chelsea Gray and Sydney Wiese seemingly couldn’t miss from outside, Candace Parker owned the defensive glass and the team spread the ball around well. If L.A. has the offense moving that well again in the semifinals, it will be quite the handful for Connecticut to deal with.
The Sun finished one game ahead of the Sparks for the second seed, and the teams are very tight by most metrics. Do not let the seeding fool you: this one is a virtual toss up, and it’s anyone’s guess who will earn a spot in the 2019 WNBA Finals.