WNBA: Aces, Sky lead playoffs-bound teams

Published August 17, 2022, 11:00 AMYoyo Sarmenta

The WNBA postseason is upon us! The race to the title gets even more exciting with the Aces-Mercury, Sky-Liberty, Sun-Wings, and Storm-Mystics best-of-three battles.

After a hard-fought race towards the postseason in which it literally came down to the final day of eliminations, the 2022 WNBA Playoffs cast is now complete.

The Las Vegas Aces (26-10) clinched the top seed and home court advantage while the New York Liberty (16-20) and Phoenix Mercury (15-21) earned the last two spots. The Minnesota Lynx failed to reach the playoffs as we bid goodbye to Sylvia Fowles’ illustrious career. 

The playoffs will start on Thursday, August 18 (PH time) as the defending champions Chicago Sky host the Liberty while the Aces take on the Mercury. 

The league made a slight tweak in the postseason format this year as the first round will now be a best-of-three series with the higher seeds hosting the first two games. For the past six seasons, the top two seeds automatically earned byes into the semifinals while the first two rounds were comprised of one-game knockouts.

The semifinals and the WNBA Finals will remain best-of-five series with a 2-2-1 format with the higher seed hosting the first two games and the deciding fifth game if necessary. 

Here are the matchups for this year’s playoffs.

(1) Las Vegas Aces vs (8) Phoenix Mercury

Under first-year head coach Becky Hammon, the Aces came into this season renewed and determined. They owned a new identity in which playing with pace, spacing, and shooting more 3s, became apparent. They finished on top of the league in scoring (90.4 ppg), free throw makes (16.3), as well as ranking second in 3-pointers (9.5) as their rejuvenated playing style catapulted impressive seasons from Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young, and MVP candidate A’ja Wilson.

The Aces have been red hot all year long and their earning the top seed makes them heavy favorites in this matchup. It also doesn’t help that the Mercury have had a lot on their plate. Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia has hovered like a dark cloud throughout the league, even more so, for Phoenix. Then there’s the departure of Tina Charles in the middle of the season which hurt the team in scoring and rebounding. If that wasn’t enough, star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith left the team for personal reasons in the regular season’s last stretch. Diana Taurasi has been dealing with a quad injury which leaves her status unclear. 

But the Mercury have remained resilient. Though it’s been a rollercoaster of a season for new head coach Vanessa Nygaard, the team is still headed for the playoffs. Who know if Diamiond DeShields, Sophie Cunningham, Shey Peddy, and Brianna Turner can pull off an upset?

(2) Chicago Sky vs (7) New York Liberty

The pressure here, of course, is on the defending champions. The Sky are looking to repeat on the strength of their core. Last year’s Finals MVP Kahleah Copper is the team’s leading scorer with almost 16 points per game but five other Sky players averaged double-figures throughout the season. Mainstays Azura Stevens, Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, and Candace Parker all carry with them their championship pedigree and winning experience. It also helps that new additions Emma Meesseman and rookie Rebekah Gardner have fit into coach James Wade’s system seamlessly. 

On the flip side, the Liberty have youth on their side. Sabrina Ionescu’s stock has skyrocketed this season with her 30-point games and triple-doubles. The young point guard’s star power might just give the Liberty a fighting chance against a loaded team. Natasha Howard, meanwhile, seems to be more comfortable now in her second year with the squad. Her quick feet and strength at the boards will be needed as she goes up against Parker and Meesseman. Another thing going for New York is the late-season return of Betnijah Laney after her knee surgey back in June. She can still score in bunches and her presence on the floor will allow her teammates to get it going on the offensive end. 

(3) Connecticut Sun vs (6) Dallas Wings

The big story for this series is the loss of Dallas’ Arike Ogunbowale to an abdominal injury which will force the star guard to miss the first round. Though the Wings have played relatively well without her during the last portion of the regular season, her ability to create shots on her own will surely be missed against the tight defense of the Connecticut Sun. The Wings also have Satou Sabally (ankle) and Isabelle Harrison (shoulder) to worry about on their injury list. 

Dallas’ production will fall on the shoulders of Marina Mabrey and Teaira McCowan. Mabrey has upped her scoring the past few games, including a 31-point explosion against the Liberty last week. McCowan, meanwhile, is putting up a double-double of 17.4 points and 11.6 rebounds the past seven games. 

The Sun will still have the upper hand as last year’s MVP Jonquel Jones is still playing elite basketball as well as Brionna Jones who has excelled in her role off the bench. Same goes for Alyssa Thomas, enjoying a full season back in the lineup. She returned late in the playoffs a season ago after recovering from an Achilles’ tear but her last-minute addition wasn’t enough against the Sky. Now able to assimilate herself better with the team, she’s been an absolute tear for opponents this year. 

The playoffs have not been kind to the Sun the past several years and they’re hoping to finally break through this time around. 

(4) Seattle Storm vs (5) Washington Mystics

The Storm and the Mystics met four years ago in the WNBA Finals with Seattle winning it all in three games. There’s been a handful of roster changes here and there but the star power of these two ball clubs remain strong as ever. 

At the forefront of this titanic matchup is two former MVPs in Elena Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart. Stewie has made headlines this year with her MVP race against Las Vegas’ Wilson but EDD had quite a year herself. 

Stewart averaged 21.8 points on 47.2 percent shooting while grabbing 7.6 rebounds in the regular season. Then there’s Delle Donne who put up 17.2 points on 48 percent shooting plus 6.3 boards. Stewart surely put up MVP numbers and played one heck of a season, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that Delle Donne had some impressive numbers as well considering she only played 25 games with Washington managing her health. There were flashes of her old self and if the Mystics played it right, we could be looking at a fit and strong EDD in the playoffs.

There are all kinds of storylines too with former Storm Alysha Clark who’s now with the Mystics and Tina Charles who left Washington for Phoenix but eventually made her way to Seattle. Of course, there’s also Sue Bird who is on her final playing year. She’d want to finish her career with a championship but she and the Storm have to deal with the Mystics first.