WNBA Playoffs Round 1 takeaways: The Las Vegas Aces are not messing around

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Eight teams have been cut down to four and the semifinals of the WNBA Playoffs are about to get started on Aug. 28 with the Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun, Seattle Storm and Chicago Sky still alive

The first round of playoff action showcased more than just the skill of the winning teams. Here are four key takeaways to get you caught up before the post-season stakes get even higher.

Las Vegas Aces are not to be played with

Out of the four first-round match-ups, Las Vegas was one of the first teams to clinch a semi-final spot after sweeping the Phoenix Mercury and winning their second best-of-three game by a whopping 37 points.

Chelsea Gray picked up her momentum as the “Point Gawd” through the final games of the regular season and carried it to the playoffs, tallying 17 points in Game 1 and 27 points in Game 2, also recording eight assists in the triumphant win.

On top of Gray’s stellar performance, A’ja Wilson continued to dominate with 17 points in Game 2 after being held to eight points in Game 1 — even though she still successfully grabbed 12 rebounds.

Kelsey Plum continued her stretch of red-hot shooting, sinking 22 points in both games for the Aces, while Jackie Young recorded 15 and 16 points in each of the two first-round games.

With Dearica Hamby still out for the foreseeable future, the Aces core four has been unstoppable and will be a much tougher test for the Seattle Storm to take down than their first-round opponent in Washington.

The Storm starting lineup of center Tina Charles, guard Jewell Loyd, guard Sue Bird, forward Gabby Williams and forward Breanna Stewart will be a tougher test defensively for Las Vegas, but armed with one of the best defences in the league at a 90.5 defensive rating through the playoffs, they are ready for whatever Seattle throws at them.

Sun vs. Sky get a 2021 rematch

Chicago and Connecticut were the two teams who both had to endure road Game 3’s as they were pushed to a do-or-die game in the playoffs, but the top seeds emerged successful on both sides and will now face off in a re-match of the 2021 WNBA semi-final where Chicago got the best of Connecticut in four games.

Each roster looks a little different this time around, though their cores are pretty much the same. Connecticut still has DeWanna Bonner, Jonquel Jones, Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas, while Chicago still has Candace Parker, Kahleah Copper, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot.

Copper led the Sky in scoring during the regular season, averaging 15.7 points per game, and scored 20 points as the Sky routed the Liberty 100-62 in Game 2 after New York took Game 1 from the reigning champs.

Healthy for the 2022 season, Connecticut’s Thomas averaged 11.3 points, eight rebounds and 4.7 assists across 32.3 minutes of play during the first three-game series of the post-season against Dallas.

Connecticut and Chicago both have defensively minded teams, as they boast almost the exact same net rating — Chicago gets the edge at 94.3, but Connecticut is just behind at 94.7.

Many players from last year’s matchup won’t be on the court due to trades or injury — Diamond DeShields and Stef Dolson both departed Chicago in the off-season, while Jasmine Thomas has had to miss the remainder of the 2022 season after tearing her ACL.

While the teams look slightly different, as the Sun booked their fourth straight semi-final appearance, this time they’ll want to get over the losing hump.

Liberty building solid foundation

Taking Game 1 of a playoff series against the reigning WNBA champions on their home court is not an easy task, but if anyone was going to do it, it was the New York Liberty.

While their fairytale ended as Chicago won two straight including taking Game 3 at Barclays in front of New York’s home crowd, they had a lot to look forward to as the team continues to develop chemistry and grow together.

Sabrina Ionescu’s 22-point night helped the Liberty steal Game 1, but her true talent showed when she bounced back from a lacklustre seven-point night in Game 2 to drop 14 points, six rebounds and four assists in Game 3 despite the loss, showing the resilience that the Liberty squad has.

Betnijah Laney, the Liberty’s leading scorer in 2021, missed most of the season sitting out from May 17 to Aug. 6 because of knee issues that required surgery, and didn’t get to play out a season with a fully healthy and confident Ionescu, but still managed to be stellar on arrival and scored 15 points in Game 3.

Marine Johannes was the story of the Liberty this season, returning to the WNBA for the first time since 2019, shooting 43.7 per cent from deep during the regular season and averaging 10 points per game.

The Liberty also had a new head coach in longtime WNBA coach Sandy Brondello after she parted ways with the Phoenix Mercury, and while the result wasn’t what they wanted after falling in three games, the progress was there.

“I think we woke them up a little bit, to be quite honest,” Brondello said of the Sky’s bounce back after Game 1. “Because now they’ve gone to another level.”

Mystics not okay with complacency

One of the two teams swept in the first round of the playoffs, the Washington Mystics were less than pleased with their performance as they made their exit despite being the fifth seed.

The return of Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark this season, the stellar play of Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins in the backcourt, and WNBA All-Rookie team member Shakira Austin on top of a steady bench were the perfect storm for Washington to be a better team than in 2021, but ultimately fell short.

Cloud tallied at least 16 points, six rebounds and one assist per game in the post-season, including a 21-point, six-rebound and five-assist performance in Game 2 as Seattle’s attention was drawn to Delle Donne.

“Tash is a warrior. She’s going to play through everything,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. “That’s why she’s had success in this league getting better every year. She’s worked on things… she’s done what she’s supposed to do.”

Atkins also tallied at least 15 points per game in the two post-season games for the Mystics, and at least four assists per game, but being unable to stop the Storm defensively crushed any of Washington’s hopes.

All five Storm starters finished in double figures with at least 12 points, and Seattle also held Austin to just two points.

The team on the whole continued to move the ball well and create space for players like Sue Bird to score, as she became the oldest player to record a WNBA playoff double-double with 18 points and 10 assists at 41 years old.

The 2019 WNBA champion Mystics, however, don’t care about past successes, or failures, and are focused on building around their core trio and continuing to improve.

“Every year is different. Every year contracts end, contracts switch. We’re gonna have a new look,” said Cloud alongside Delle Donne and Atkins. “The three of us will be here and we’re going to continue to build and get better.”

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