By: Lyndsay Helfrich
The march to the WNBA Finals continues with the semi-final matchups now set. The first round featured some exciting games, but in the end the results were chalk with the top seeded team taking each first round series. Without further adieu, let’s preview the semi-final matchups.
No. 2 New York Liberty vs No. 3 Connecticut Sun
Game 1: Sun at Liberty, September 24 (1pm ET)
Game 2: Sun at Liberty, September 26 (8pm ET)
Game 3: Liberty at Sun, September 29 (7:30pm ET)
Game 4, if necessary: Liberty at Sun, October 1 (TBA)
Game 5, if necessary: Sun at Liberty, October 3 (TBA)
The Connecticut Sun were the only team to have their series go the full three games and are now facing a new challenge in the star-studded New York Liberty. Connecticut has now advanced to the semi-finals for the fifth consecutive season and are determined to get back to the Finals after losing to the Aces in 2022.
The New York Liberty, on the other hand, passed their first test in defeating the Mystics. They won in a sweep, but it took overtime in game two to get past Elena Delle Donne and company, advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Vibe Check: Both sides feature talented rosters, you don’t claim the two of the three top seeds in the league without that being the case. How the stars perform in this series for both sides will dictate how the series will go. Jonquel Jones feasted against the Mystics smaller roster in the first round, averaging 19 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, and there are few reasons to suggest she can’t repeat that production. The Sun have one of the best defences in the league, even after losing Jones to the Liberty in the offseason, but much like the Mystics, they do not have enough size down low to truly make Jones’ job difficult.
Three-point shooting will be even more important for the Sun in this series in order to keep up with the perimeter shooting talent the Liberty boast; Courtney Vandersloot, Sabrina Ionescu, Breanna Stewart and even Jones are all capable of making you pay from outside, with Ionescu in particular on a scorching three-point scoring run of late. While New York features plenty of size and have had success on that end, they have more defensive liabilities than Connecticut; their ability to take advantage of weaker defensive players like Ionescu will be something to watch for.
Most important for Connecticut, however, is the play of Alyssa Thomas. The Liberty have provided a tough challenge for Thomas through the regular season and as the teams leading scorer and assist leader, the Suns need her to perform. Of the two semi-final matchups this is likely to be the most tightly contested. The Liberty were a pre-season favourite to make the Finals certainly appear eager and able to play spoiler to those predictions.
No. 1 Las Vegas Aces vs No. 4 Dallas Wings
Game 1: Wings at Aces, September 24 (5pm ET)
Game 2: Wings at Aces, September 26 (10pm ET)
Game 3: Aces at Wings, September 29 (9:30pm ET)
Game 4, if necessary: Aces at Wings, October 1 (TBA)
Game 5, if necessary: Wings at Aces, October 3 (TBA)
The defending champion Aces looked dominant in their first-round sweep of the Chicago Sky – they won each game by a point differential of 50 and never trailed Chicago at any point. A’ja Wilson did MVP things and Chelsea Gray looked like the playoff killer that led her to claim the 2022 Finals MVP trophy. Las Vegas hounded Chicago on defence and scored at will on the other end. Chicago didn’t lay down and fought hard, but Las Vegas was too much to handle. To paraphrase the immortal Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation: the Aces know what they are about.
The Dallas Wings had a slightly more contested series, despite getting past the Atlanta Dream in two games – their game one win featured a twenty-point comeback. Their victory is their first playoff series win since 2009, and the first for the Wings since they relocated to Dallas in 2016 (the Wings were previously the Detroit and then Tulsa Shock). They now have the challenge of matching up with the defending champs. Even as a young team, they will have to continue to show no fear.
Vibe Check: The Wings are in the midst of their most successful season in over a decade and if they want to keep the good vibes rolling, they will need to pull off a major upset. They are a well-coached team, with Latricia Trammell finishing second in Coach of the Year voting to Connecticut’s Stephanie White, and have shown plenty of resilience in tough situations despite their youth. Trammell has instilled defensive focus in her team and for them to have any hope of success, they will need to defend hard. Las Vegas’ backcourt alone features three All-WNBA calibre scorers in Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, let alone the MVP they employ in the front court. Arike Ogunbowale and Crystal Dangerfield, the Wings’ starting back court, have never been known for their defensive prowess but have made noticeable strides this season and will need to continue to do so.
The Wings have plenty of talent in their own right, with Satou Sabbally being named Most Improved Player and the flamethrowing Ogunbowale, but as a whole the Wings’ offense has been inconsistent. Outside shooting alwyas matters, but if it becomes a key to the series, one side will be heavily favoured – the Aces were one of the best, and the Wings were the worst, three-point shooting team in the league during the regular season. They have improved in the playoffs, and a playoff series provides opportunity for variance, but hitting from deep and executing on offense will make or break the Wings’ hopes at an upset.
The adage might be that defense wins championships, but consistency is key and that is something the Wings struggle with on both ends of the floor. The Wings are a fun team but the Aces are a well-oiled machine operating at peak efficiency; the chance to return to the Finals is there for the taking.
The semi-finals each year are always exciting and there is every reason to believe this year will continue that trend as there is no shortage of compelling storylines and electrifying talent. Tune in on September 24th and stay with us here at Intermission Sports for continuing coverage of the WNBA playoffs.