- Dearica Hamby hit a winner for the ages to set up an epic semifinals matchup with the Mystics while the Sparks showed just how good they can be in a rout of the Storm.
Let’s drop all pretense here and start with what everyone is talking about: the ending of Aces-Sky.
There’s just so much to get into here. Las Vegas looking dead in the water. Courtney Vandersloot taking the ball into the backcourt and one of the best passers in WNBA history committing the basketball sin of jumping and firing a poor pass upcourt. Dearica Hamby, who was announced as Sixth Woman of the Year ahead of the game, snagging said pass out of the air, taking two steps and nailing a halfcourt shot about 4.8 seconds too early. Three-point shooting is an aspect of Hambry's game that she really worked on this year, but she still only hit 17 during the regular season.
It was a perfect playoff basketball moment—if your allegiances lie outside of Chicago—and gave the Aces a last-gasp win to book their ticket to the semifinals to face the waiting Death Star that is the Washington Mystics.
Vegas will need unlikely heroes like Kelsey Plum, who went 3 of 5 from three and dropped 15 points, and Hamby, whose all-important winner capped off a 17-point night, if it’s to really push Washington.
You know Liz Cambage, who despite being out the last few possessions led Vegas with 23 points, is going to bring it every night. A’ja Wilson is already a superstar in this league and one of the Aces’ most consistent contributors alongside Cambage and Kayla McBride, but Vegas will need all the offense it can get in the next series.
Although it doesn’t feel particularly fair, this is a series that Jackie Young is going to really need to prove herself. The No. 1 pick of the 2019 draft picked up two early fouls and recorded only one point in just over four minutes of play before Bill Laimbeer opted to run with Plum.
That ended up being the right choice, as Plum’s scoring touch helped the Aces keep pace with the Sky in the third quarter. But a player with Young’s defensive talent would be hugely helpful against the Mystics’ backcourt.
Vegas will also need to use its pace to its advantage against Washington, an aspect of its game that was reasonably nullified against Chicago’s similarly speedy play. And don't sleep on how close the Sky came to advancing, because they looked like they had the Aces' number for a good chunk of this game.
Astou Ndour’s would-be winner that put Chicago up 92-90 will live on in the pantheon of incredible shots that preceded an opponent’s incredible—and heartbreaking—winner, otherwise known as the Marcus Paige category.
It also shouldn’t be overlooked that Vegas trailed for a reasonable amount of this game. The Aces can’t afford to spot the Mystics a healthy lead at any point next round, with Washington’s offense being one of the most devastating units of all time that possesses the ability to bury you early and never let you back into the game.
These two teams never seem to be able to play a normal game, so a five-game series featuring presumptive league-MVP Elena Delle Donne, the probable return of Kristi Toliver and a historic offense going against this season’s best defense should be a great time.
Don’t let the final score fool you: Seattle looked to have a very good chance to advance to the semifinals for about 29 minutes of Sunday’s game, including the matchup being a one-point game late in the third quarter. Then the Sparks turned on the afterburners, with Riquana Williams nailing a buzzer-beating three to extend their lead to nine entering the final quarter. L.A. went on to hold the Storm to only 11 points and scored 25 itself in the final 10 minutes to effectively shut the door on the game.
Jordin Canada and Jewell Loyd, who were sensational in the first round and seriously outplayed the Lynx backcourt, had trouble containing Chelsea Gray, who lit them up with 21 points, including 4 of 7 from deep. Nneka Ogwumike also got loose for 17 points.
But it was L.A.’s depth that really hurt Seattle, with 10 of the 12 players who got minutes scoring at least one point. When Kalani Brown plays just under three minutes and manages to still score six points while Alysha Clark—who started and played about 30 minutes—only manages five, it’s not your night.
That shouldn’t take away from an incredible season for the Storm. They overcame incredible diversity, from Dan Hughes’s fight with cancer and return to the team to adapting to the injuries of Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird and still getting a high enough seed to host a playoff game this postseason.
With the 2018 MVP and Bird returning to the squad and a stout defensive identity truly engrained into the team, the Storm are likely to look good once again in 2020.
As for the Sparks, they now face off against the Connecticut Sun, a team that L.A. took two of three from during the regular season, including the most recent matchup on Aug. 25. The backcourt battle will be huge in this series, with Courtney Williams and Jasmine Thomas going up against Gray and Riquana Williams, who has put up some eye-popping numbers this season.
And then, of course, we have the battle of MVP-contenders Ogwumike and Jonquel Jones. This is going to be a massively entertaining series with plenty of personalities—fiery or otherwise—and lots of firepower.
And finally a big shout to the WNBA and commissioner Cathy Engelbert for announcing that the league would be covering chartered flights for the teams who played Sunday to fly to their next destination. Now on to the semifinals.