The very best four seeds advanced to the semifinals of the 2022 WNBA playoffs with relative ease, however the matchups and storylines that await within the next round are hardly lacking intrigue.
The top-seeded NEVADA Aces no. 4 seed Seattle Storm face off in a battle featuring seven former No. 1 overall draft picks. The Aces are hungry to win the franchise’s first championship, which may make Becky Hammon the initial first-year coach to win a WNBA title since Van Chancellor in 1997, the league’s inaugural season. But Sue Bird and Tina Charles have plenty to fight for, too, as Bird readies for retirement with four (and when things go her way, five) WNBA titles to her name, while Charles switched teams midseason searching for her coveted first.
Fresh off winning decisive Game 3s in the initial round, the No. 2 seed Chicago Sky and the third-seeded Connecticut Sun are hoping to transport that momentum in to the semifinals, where they’ll meet for the next straight year and in the postseason for the 3rd consecutive summer. Behind Candace Parker, who has indicated this may be her final season in the league, the defending champion Sky want to end up being the first WNBA team to repeat since 2001-02. SUNLIGHT — the W franchise with playoff wins (33) but no title — desire to advance with their second Finals in four seasons before their championship window diminishes.
The Sky swept sunlight in the standard season (4-0) with a 4.5-point average margin of victory, as the Aces had a 3-1 edge come early july in meetings versus the Storm, having an average margin of victory across all games to arrive at 9.5.
ESPN’s M.A. Voepel, Alexa Philippou and Kevin Pelton answer the largest questions that’ll determine the semifinals and predict which teams will reach the WNBA Finals.
Of the seven former No. 1 draft picks in the Aces-Storm semifinals, which player could have the single-biggest effect on the results of the series?
Pelton: Jewell Loyd. Her two games contrary to the Aces in the season’s final week — one point in the home; a career-high 38 in NEVADA — reflect the extremes of Loyd’s possible performance. With this particular series apt to be decided in late-game situations, the Storm will require the Loyd we saw grab Game 1 vs. Washington by scoring 12 of her team’s points in a row down the stretch.
Philippou: Loyd may be the clear X factor, but I’ll throw in A’ja Wilson, too. The 2020 MVP (and a front-runner for the award this season) had a disappointing begin to the playoffs, going 2-for-11 from the field in Game 1 contrary to the Mercury before rebounding with a far more characteristic 7-for-9 outing within the next game. For the Aces to create their second Finals appearance in three seasons, without doubt Wilson’s fingerprints have to be all around the court, both offensively and defensively.
Which trio has been the very best ‘Big Three’ in the playoffs up to now?
Voepel: My initial thought may be the Aces, but it’s perhaps another trio than we’d have chosen earlier in the growing season: Chelsea Gray, who has elevated to tie for the team lead in scoring in the playoffs, Kelsey Plum and Wilson, who’s doing her typical MVP candidate stuff. But that leaves out Jackie Young, so maybe we supply the Aces the moniker of “Best Quartet” and list Chicago’s Candace Parker, Kahleah Copper and Courtney Vandersloot as a far more specific Big Three.
The fantastic Leon Barmore, legendary coach of Louisiana Tech, once said that should you gave him three excellent players, he could win plenty of games it doesn’t matter how good another two were. I believe that might be true of the semifinalists’ top three, but having at the very top center-forward, a dynamic wing and a magnificent point guard is a good formula for the Sky.
Pelton: Adjusting for opposition, I’d opt for Seattle’s band of Loyd, Bird and Breanna Stewart. That they had to be at their finest to sweep the Washington Mystics, including Bird improbably posting her best game score ever in a playoff game with 18 points and 10 assists during her final postseason and Stewart coming within two assists of her first career triple-double.
Philippou: Pelton’s right for the reason that Seattle’s Big Three faced the toughest competition, but I’ll still opt for what we’ll call the Vegas Backcourt Big Three of Plum, Gray and Young. As Voepel alluded to, Gray isn’t typically considered in virtually any “Big Three” and was the only real Vegas starter never to get an All-Star bid last month. But she’s been playing at an otherworldly level in recent weeks, hitting 20 points in five of her past eight outings — including a career-high 33 contrary to the Storm within their regular-season finale — and at the very least 15 in every but one. Moreover, she’s shot 10-for-13 on 3-pointers while averaging 6.0 assists to start out the postseason. If Gray maintains this degree of play, and Plum and Young continue steadily to do their thing alongside her in the backcourt, Vegas would likely decrease the nets the following month for the very first time in franchise history.
Chicago upset Connecticut in four games in last year’s semifinals. SUNLIGHT can win this year’s matchup if … ?
Voepel: SUNLIGHT play high-level defense and rebound the ball well, like they did in the next 1 / 2 of Game 3 contrary to the Wings. The overall game was close in the initial half and Alyssa Thomas virtually informed her teammates to obtain with it, plus they responded. They forced turnovers, contested shots and appeared to degrade the Wings. Coach Curt Miller said that when there is a very important factor that always can carry sunlight through in the toughest games, it’s defense. Considering how good the Sky’s offense is, this is an extremely difficult test.
Philippou: Voepel is spot-on concerning the Sun’s identity. I’d just add they’ll also need their perimeter players to intensify. Courtney Williams (5.7 PPG, 30.8% shooting in the playoffs) struggled in the Dallas series, but Natisha Hiedeman and, off the bench, DiJonai Carrington helped replace that, plus DeWanna Bonner had an enormous momentum-shifting run in Game 3. Some mix of two of these four have to be on any given night to greatly help take pressure off the bigs inside. As always, ensuring they are able to get Jonquel Jones enough touches will undoubtedly be critical for sunlight, too.
Pelton: If sunlight get some good stops. Remarkably, Chicago shot 55.5% from the field in a 4-0 series sweep of Connecticut. No other team shot much better than 47.5% contrary to the Sun. For the reason that context, it’s amazing Connecticut were able to stay close in every four games, with three of these decided by four points or fewer. It is also interesting because that is the inverse of last year’s playoff series, once the Sky never shot much better than 50% in virtually any of the four games but nonetheless won 3-1.
Let’s stick to upsets: Seattle can topple top-seeded NEVADA if … ?
Pelton: The Storm stay hot from 3-point range — a clear answer but it’s true. Las Vegas’ good and the bad this year were largely something of opponent’s 3-point shooting. The Aces went 6-8 when opponents hit at the very least 35% of these 3s and so are undefeated (18-0, like the playoffs) when they’re under 33%. Seattle made at the very least 1 / 2 of its 3-point attempts in both games of the sweep over Washington.
Philippou: Vegas reverts back again to a few of its poor defensive habits. Becky Hammon frequently says she doesn’t care just as much about her team’s offensive output as its defensive effort and execution. If the Aces let through to that end of the ground, the Storm are too savvy and experienced of a team never to make sure they are pay. To achieve that, players apart from Stewart will need to intensify.
Voepel: The post battles between both of these teams will undoubtedly be riveting. But one of the primary keys for the Storm will undoubtedly be somehow slowing the Aces’ perimeter power. NEVADA shredded Phoenix from behind the arc in the initial round, but that has been a decimated Mercury team. Seattle can look to famous brands Loyd, Gabby Williams and savvy vets Bird and Briann January to avoid Plum, Gray and Young from overtaking. If Seattle can limit the NEVADA guards enough, the Storm can win this series. Due to Seattle’s franchise history, it will not necessarily look like an upset if the Storm win the series, although in writing it could be.
Remember how epic the 2018 semifinal series between Seattle and Phoenix felt? This feels exactly the same, and when it goes five games like this one did, it’ll be a delicacy for WNBA fans. Both teams will undoubtedly be playing with a huge amount of emotion. The Storm desire to keep Bird’s career going so long as possible and the Aces believe they are on the brink of a championship days gone by 2 yrs but were stopped short (in 2020 by the Storm in the Finals and this past year by the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals).
Will Chicago or Connecticut advance to the WNBA Finals?
Philippou: Chicago will advance. It’s hard to forget the Sky’s 7-1 run against Connecticut dating to last season’s semifinal. Kahleah Copper said Tuesday that the team “fell in love” with the version of itself it placed on display from Games 2 and 3 of the initial round, and that there surely is no heading back now. That version featured both stellar offense and stifling defense, a mix that might once again be an excessive amount of for sunlight.
Voepel: I am going with Chicago. The Sky were frustrated by losing Game 1 to the NY Liberty in the home, but they’ve also used it with their advantage in how well they played since. Chicago is a big thorn in the Sun’s side lately, and which could continue. Chicago’s offense has just been an excessive amount of for Connecticut to beat once up to now this season, so carrying it out 3 x in a string seems a bridge too much.
Pelton: You can find two contrasting trends I’m picking between. As noted, the Sky swept the growing season series, and higher seeds that did so can be 22-4 in history in playoff series. (Among the four exceptions? Chicago beating Phoenix in last year’s WNBA Finals.) Simultaneously, sunlight had a far greater point differential through the regular season, a lot more than three points per game much better than the Sky. That is the largest advantage for a lesser seed in a lot more than 2 decades. Point differential is commonly an excellent playoff predictor, so I’m nervously keeping Connecticut to determine the matchup.
Will NEVADA or Seattle advance to the WNBA Finals?
Voepel: Wow, that one is indeed hard. NEVADA may be the top seed for reasonable, no matter the Mercury’s deficiencies, the Aces still ran them out from the arena in Game 2. How will NEVADA look seven days later because of its opener against Seattle? Probably excellent. But it’s compelling precisely how badly the Storm want this for Bird, and in addition for Charles, who hasn’t won a WNBA title. So, what on earth: I’m rolling the dice a little here contrary to the team from Vegas and choosing the Storm.
Pelton: This matchup favors the Aces, whose depth of perimeter talent tests the Storm defensively. Add home-court advantage and I’m taking NEVADA to get back again to the Finals after both of these teams met there in 2020.
Philippou: The Aces went 3-1 in the standard season contrary to the Storm and won those games by the average margin of roughly nine points. It’s tough to note that script flipped in the postseason, for the reason why Pelton mentioned, and as the Storm’s inconsistent depth gives them a slimmer margin for error. But I’ll predict it’ll have a decisive Game 5 — which may be back Vegas — because of this series to be decided.
Which teams will meet in the WNBA Finals?
Pelton: NEVADA vs. Connecticut
Philippou: NEVADA vs. Chicago
Voepel: Seattle vs. Chicago
Which team will win the 2022 WNBA championship?
Who’ll function as WNBA Finals MVP?
Pelton: Kelsey Plum, NEVADA
Philippou: A’ja Wilson, NEVADA
Voepel: Candace Parker, Chicago