Professional Basketball

Sky, Storm Advance to WNBA’s Second Round

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The Chicago Sky and Seattle Storm used their respective home court advantages to propel them to the second round of the 2019 WNBA Playoffs following first round victories on Wednesday.

Chicago Sky 105, Phoenix Mercury 76

Chicago Sky guard Diamond DeShields led all scorers in the first Round 1 playoff game with 25 points. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

In the day’s first game, the Chicago Sky used a 12-0 run to start the third quarter to dominate the visiting Phoenix Mercury, 105-76, in front of an announced crowd of 6,042 at Wintrust Arena.

The two teams were evenly matched in the first quarter, which ended with Chicago up by four points. Then with 8:18 remaining in the second quarter, Mercury center Brittney Griner set a screen on Sky guard Allie Quigley. Not only did Griner get called for the offensive foul, but knee-to-knee contact forced the 2019 scoring leader to the locker room for evaluation. Chicago was unable to gain separation without Griner in the lineup and was up 44-41 at the half.

“You never want to see a player, especially one that’s been the face of our league, get hurt,” said Sky head coach James Wade, who was announced as WNBA Coach of the Year prior to the game’s start. “Fortunately, it’s not that serious. She’ll be okay.”

Griner returned to the lineup to begin the third quarter, but was ineffective and soon watched the rest of the game from the bench as a precaution. Chicago made their 12-0 run to begin the third quarter, found separation, and the Mercury was quickly in a hole it could not get out of. Chicago outscored Phoenix 29-19 in the third quarter and 32-16 in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.

Sky forward Diamond DeShields led all scorers with 25 points while forward DeWanna Bonner netted 21 to lead the Mercury. Chicago’s Cheyenne Parker led all rebounders with seven and Bonner led Phoenix defensively with six rebounds.

“She’s been very impressive,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said about DeShields. “She’ll be one of the best players ever when she walks away from the game at the end of her career.”

Entering the game, Phoenix was 6-0 in single-elimination games but played without guard Diana Taurasi who was sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Chicago now looks to their Round 2 matchup against the Las Vegas Aces. They are 1-2 against their rivals. After their last meeting, Aces center Liz Cambage trash talked the physicality in the paint, forcing Sky coach Wade to claim that Cambage was “protected by the refs.”

“After that game, we knew we could see them again,” Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “It’s one that you kind of wish you had back. You think about a couple of possessions here and there and things go differently. They’re a tough team. They have two incredible bigs. It’s a tough matchup for us, but when we’re playing our game and we’re doing what we’re doing, it’s tough for other teams.”

Seattle Storm 84, Minnesota Lynx 74

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s second game in front of 5,011 fans at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Wash., the Seattle Storm fended off several second half runs from the Minnesota Lynx for an 84-74 victory in their Round 1 game.

Seattle jumped out to an 11-4 lead in the first three minutes of the contest, forcing Minnesota to call an early timeout in order to regroup. Yet when the quarter ended, Seattle guards Jordin Canada and Jewell Loyd each scored 11 points as the home team clung to a 29-21 lead.

A minute into the second quarter, the Storm forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis made a 22-foot pull up jump shot and was fouled by Lynx forward Stephanie Talbot. Mosqueda-Lewis made the free throw to extend the Seattle lead to 14 points, 35-21.

Veteran play by Lynx forward Damiras Dantas, who scored seven points in the second quarter, along with four points in the quarter from guard Seimone Augustus enabled Minnesota to keep within striking distance at the half. Seattle led 47-41 when the teams took their halftime break.

Seattle Storm guard Jordin Canada scored a career-high 26 points to lead all scorers during Wednesday’s Round 1 playoff game versus the Minnesota Lynx. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Canada worked hard in the third quarter to extend the Seattle lead, scoring eight points in the frame, but Lynx forward Napheesa Collier worked equally hard by pushing back with 11 points of her own. Seattle clung to a 64-59 lead going into the final quarter.

A layup by Minnesota forward Temi Fagbenle cut the margin to three points, 64-61, with 9:00 remaining in the game. The Lynx would come no closer.

Storm guard Shavonte Zellous hit back-to-back jump shots in the ensuing possessions, which was followed by a three-pointer by guard Sami Whitcomb. Suddenly Seattle was back up by ten points and Minnesota was chasing the clock.

When the final buzzer sounded, it was an 84-74 Seattle victory for the right to travel to Los Angeles for a Round 2 game on Sunday.

“Jewell Loyd got them going playing off of their defense. Our defense wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be early in the game. We ended up giving up 29 points in the first quarter, but we adjusted okay,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “And then we couldn’t score when we needed to when it got close. Seattle wanted to win the game. Give them all the credit in the world. They earned a home game and this is exactly why home games are so coveted.”

Canada led all scorers with a career-high 26 points with Loyd adding 22 for the Storm. Minnesota was led with 20 points by Dantas and 19 from Collier. Seattle got 48 points out of their backcourt while the Lynx only had one point from guard Odyssey Sims. Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles led all rebounders with 11, Collier added 10, and center Mercedes Russell led the Storm with nine.

Seattle head coach Dan Hughes said, “Damiris Dantas was really good in situations and Collier is incredibly impressive to me. I thought we did a decent job and she still is a good basketball player. Our guard play, I think we put a lot of traps and congestion around them… but the separation is pretty unique.”

Seattle forward Natasha Howard, who averaged over 18 points per game during the regular season, was held to two points.

“That’s why Jordin [Canada] scored so much. Natasha still had six assists, but was in a little foul trouble that made her sit out. We gave her some attention, but I wouldn’t really say it was overall troublesome to the [Seattle] offense. It was troublesome to Natasha. That’s what happens – you take away something then give up something else and we were hoping Seattle wouldn’t find anything else, but they did,” said Reeve.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Collier is the third rookie in WNBA history to produce a double-double in their playoff debut, with Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker and retired Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings being the other two.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better season to be placed in a better situation than I was with this team. I’m really grateful that I had the vets that I had. They were amazing and always there when I had questions or anything. I feel like I was put in a really blessed spot and I just tried to make the best of it,” said Collier.

The 2019 WNBA Playoff Round 2 occurs on Sunday with the Seattle Storm visiting the Los Angeles Sparks for a 2 p.m. CT single-elimination game. This is followed by the Chicago Sky traveling to the Las Vegas Aces for a 4 p.m. CT matchup, which is also single elimination. The winners will face the top seed Washington Mystics and the second seed Connecticut Sun in the WNBA semifinals series.

NOTES:

The Phoenix Mercury-Chicago Sky game was the final one for Mercury forward Camille Little who retired after thirteen seasons of play.

The Minnesota Lynx-Seattle Storm game may have been the final one for Lynx guard Seimone Augustus. Though Augustus said she planned to retire after the 2020 season, she finished the last year of her contract and her return is uncertain.

Following the end of the WNBA regular season on Sunday, the Indiana Fever parted ways with head coach Pokey Chatman. After three seasons with the Fever, Chatman finished with a 28-74 record (.275). She has a cumulative record of 134-172 in nine seasons of WNBA head coaching experience.

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