Emotion? Justice? Finding the perfect balance between the two when designing a competition is not easy, and the WNBA has decided to tip the balance by adding chicha to the matter, by attracting the attention of the public. After a 32-game regular league, four franchises, from fourth to eighth, played their pass in two single-game ties last week. The result, the expected one: surprises, unexpected outcomes, teams that we all wanted to see go home.
The reigning champions, Seattle Storm, will not be able to defend their ring after losing yesterday to Phoenix Mercury. It may be the last match of the Sue Bird myth. And Minnesota Lynx, one of the two most fit franchises of the moment, has done the same after losing to Chicago Sky.
Is it fair that a team with 6 fewer wins in the regular league, such as Sky (16-16) against Lynx (22-10), qualify for the semifinals by winning only one game? Well, for tastes, but not too much, you would say.
Now, has it been spectacular? Much. And from the first moment.
PHOENIX SUFFERS AGAINST NEW YORK IN THE FIRST ROUND
Because the thing already pointed ways last Thursday. Two first-round games to open the playoffs, little appetizer. Dallas Wings was visiting Chicago, New York Liberty was traveling to Phoenix. Night for two young league names: Arike Ogunbowale and Sabrina Ionescu. The second was the one that sounded the most.
Dallas fell relentlessly to Chicago Sky. 64-81, Ogunbowale was at a good level (22 points) but little accompanied: outside of it, only Satou Sabally passed 10 points in the Wings. On the part of Illinois, a bit of everything: Candace Parker touched the triple-double (11 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists), Kahlea Copper contributed 23 points, and Vandersloot and Quigley, who would be the Olsen sisters if not for it would be incest, 17 and 15, respectively.
The show was reserved for the Phoenix duel. The Mercury were favorite maxims, yes, but they came without Diana Taurasi. Eye. And New York was frightening, because in the last meeting of the regular season They seemed to have a lot like what they want to be. An uncomfortable team, with many legs in defense, small in attack, deadly from the line of three. Keep an eye out.
They were again. Led by Betnijah Laney (25 points), masterfully led by Ionescu (11 assists in their playoff debut), the Liberty put the Mercury on the ropes. Grinner, always so dominant, found no spaces in the painting. The Arizona attack was stalling. The triples that did not enter. The match was squeezed to the end.
Laney, cut last year by Indiana and who now appears to play every game as if threatened with another firing, came close to taking the game into overtime. Triplazo with 4 seconds to end the game. It couldn’t be, in any case. Brianna Turner sentenced from the free kick. Phoenix who won: 82-83. And the surprises that were reserved for Sunday night.
SUE BIRD’S LAST GAME?
After the suffered victory at home against New York, Phoenix had to visit Seattle, home of Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, of which at the beginning of the season they seemed favorites to get their fifth ring, which would be an absolute record of the WNBA . The retirement of gold for Bird at 41. The confirmation that the city of Washington is the American capital of basketball.
But no. Putting a show before justice is what he has, that the best do not always win, that a child always appears to kill Omar Little when he is limping. And the Storm were: Breanna Stewart, with a foot injury, couldn’t play yesterday’s game. To make matters worse, Diana Taurasi was returning in Phoenix.
They stood up, in any case, the Storm. They died on their knees, without the best player in the world on the court. Sue Bird had 16 points, including several decisive triples to take the game into extra time. Katie Lou Samuelson once again showed that she is up for high flights and was the team’s top scorer, with 18 goals. All better than expected.
Or almost. Because Jewell Loyd, called to shoulder the offensive responsibility without Stewart, shot 5-of-24. And without that sustenance, the big three Mercury’s did not forgive: Taurasi, Diggins-Smith, Grinner combined for 57 points, 27 rebounds, 15 assists. Too much.
It may have been the farewell to one of the greatest. When Sue Bird was asked if it was going to be her last game, it wasn’t clear. Beside her, Taurasi, her great rival, her best friend, harangued the audience while they sang that one more year. Show, justice. Honor and glory for both of us GOAT.
CHICAGO ASSAULTS MINNESOTA
The songs to Bird were echoing in Seattle and the other second-round game had already started, in which Chicago Sky visited Minnesota Lynx, favorites in the elimination round. They had won these 9 of the last 10 regular league games. They arrived more rested. They were clear candidates for the title. They played at home. Sylvia Fowles received the award for best defender of 2021 before the game. Everything ready for another celebration.
But, oh my friend, that balance between emotion and justice, how dangerous it is.
After a brilliant first quarter by Fowles and her Lynxes, Chicago turned off Cheryl Reeve’s game. The Spanish Astou Ndour and Diamond DeShields imposed the Sky bench. The Lynx began to lose balls. Not to find your Fowles lighthouse. To depend exclusively on the gusty inspiration of Aerial Powers. And the perfect setting was disintegrating like sugar in boiling coffee.
Chicago Sky won 89-76. After a regular season of ups and downs, moving into no-man’s-land, two victories in two games have put Illinois’ s in the WNBA semifinals. Where Seattle Storm, Minnesota Lynx have not gone. For that they signed Candace Parker in the summer, for those moments in which the justice of what you have done for five months already counts, only the show of now.
The WNBA semifinals begin on Tuesday. To five games. The scale will balance a little more. Chicago Sky will visit the Connecticut Sun court. Phoenix Mercury will cross the desert to play at the home of Las Vegas Aces. We continue.
Cover photo by Steph Chambers / Getty Images