The WNBA regular league is over in a big way. The tension remained until the last second, as in one of those thrillers in which the murderer does not come to light until the final scene. Spoiler: it turned out they were Sabrina Ionescu and the New York Liberty.
Let’s Sit Down: Sunday night, September 19, in Texas. Penultimate game before the end of the regular league. Dallas Wings hosted the Los Angeles Sparks. The accounts were clear. Dallas Wings had nothing at stake: they would be seventh no matter what. Los Angeles Sparks, yes. A lot: if they won, they qualified as the last and eighth franchise in the playoffs. If they lost, New York Liberty entered their place.
The scoreboard showed 0:07 by the end of the match. 87-84 for Dallas. Throw-in for Los Angeles. The ball reaches Erica Wheeler, a base for the Californians, who had just hit a triple on the previous play. Look at the clock. He passes it between his legs. He passes it on again. Light fadeaway. The ball that flies. That hits the hoop. On the board. And that does not enter.
This is how this competition is. Tension to the end. Laments in Los Angeles, where the Sparks are out of their first playoffs since 2011; where doubts grow about Derek Fisher’s role in command of the ship. And party in New York, on the way to his first postseason after three years without savoring it.
NEW YORK – PHOENIX
Thus, the young Liberty of Ionescu, Laney and Howard have more than fulfilled this season. Many analysts even placed them in the playoffs and everything that comes from here will be teaching, experience, progress. Extra positives in a course that closes with a notable.
A very tough bone awaits them: Phoenix Mercury. Those from Arizona will receive at Liberty at dawn from Thursday to Friday (4:00 in the morning Spanish time). Round a single game, where anything can happen, where for the Mercury Diana Taurasi is still a doubt. Where, however, Phoenix starts as a huge favorite.
New York’s few options are to repeat his performance last Friday against Washington Mystics. In that victory that cemented their move to the playoff (80-91), Walt Hopkins’ men were the team they want to be and not the one they have been for long stretches of the season. They changed passivity in defense for legs, for changes, aids and attitude. They put aggressiveness in attack where before there was statism. And with the version clutch from Ionescu accompanying a star Natasha Howard —22 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds; 24 points and 10 rebounds; respectively—, they won with sufficiency.
Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith await you. Maybe Diana Taurasi. Almost nothing. The normal thing would be for them to lose. But, you know, here they can surprise you until the last scene.
DALLAS – CHICAGO
A couple of hours before the confrontation between Mercury and Liberty, the Chicago Sky of the Spanish Astou Ndour will receive Dallas Wings (2:00 in the morning) in the first stake of the 2021 WNBA playoffs. The tie is more even.
Led by Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot, the Skies seem to have more storylines. Especially with a key one in a one-game tie: experience. Parker, Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Stefanie Dolson have played more postseason minutes than the entire Wings roster.
Dallas, for its part, is unpredictable. Ogunbowale is perhaps — or perhaps not — the league’s most explosive scorer. If the escort erupts and the other young women from the Wings — Sabally, Mabrey, Jefferson — accompany it, things can get messy for Chicago Sky. We will see.
SEATTLE STORM AND MINNESOTA LYNX, WAITING
Meanwhile, Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm will wait for the two qualified franchises on Sunday night. Second round to a single match in which anything can happen. Mixed sensations. Minnesota comes in as one of the fittest teams in the league. Seattle, quite the opposite. With many doubts in his game. With the uncertainty, even, of whether Breanna Stewart will be available for the game.
Both franchises are aiming for the WNBA semifinals, which will begin next Tuesday, September 28. It will be five games away and the first two classified in the regular league will come into play: Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun. But for that there is still a lot of suspense, a lot of thriller. Hopefully a lot of murderer showing up by surprise in the last scene. It’s time to enjoy.
(Cover photo by Steph Chambers / Getty Images)