While the WNBA did away with the Eastern and Western Conference playoff structure several years ago, it has boiled down to that in this year’s semifinals. The Seattle Storm and the Las Vegas Aces faced off in the West and the Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun are mixing it up in the East to earn spots in the Finals.
No team was going down without a fight. Nowhere was that more evident than in game three in the West, in which the Aces prevailed 110–98 in overtime on Sunday. A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray combined for 63 points.
“This is probably the game where there were so many back and forths,” said Gray. “That’s what playoff basketball is all about. It felt good.” Regarding overtime, she added, “We said in the huddle that the momentum is on our side now. It was deflating for the home team [Seattle] that we had to go into overtime. We were ready. We came out locked in for those five minutes.”
“We live for these moments,” said Wilson. “You work hard for these bright light games. Staying in and understanding that we worked hard to get to where we are and never lose sight of that.”
The Aces finished off the Storm on Tuesday with a 97-92 win to take the series 3-1. Gray topped the Aces with 31 points and Wilson added 23 and a game-high 13 rebounds.
The loss for the Storm ended the remarkable career of New York native and Christ the King High School legend Sue Bird. The 41-year-old point guard from Syosset (Long Island) is a four-time WNBA champion, 13-time WNBA All-Star, all-time WNBA leader in assists and five-time Olympic gold medalist. In June, Bird announced this would be her final season.
The deciding Game 5 of the Sun-Sky series is tonight as Connecticut roared back to defeat Chicago 104-80 in Game 4. The WNBA Finals get underway on Sunday.
Several WNBA postseason awards have been handed out. Rhyne Howard of the Atlanta Dream has been named Rookie of the Year, and the All-Rookie Team consists of Howard, Shakira Austin of the Washington Mystics, Queen Egbo of the Indiana Fever, Rebekah Gardner of the Chicago Sky and NaLyssa Smith of the Fever. The Sky’s head coach/general manager James Wade was named WNBA Basketball Executive of the Year.
Wilson received Defensive Player of the Year and leads the All-Defensive First Team, which also includes Breanna Stewart of the Storm, Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx and Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins of the Mystics. All-Defensive Second Team consists of Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones of the Sun, Ezi Magbegor and Gabby Thomas of the Storm and Brittney Sykes of the Los Angeles Sparks. Brionna Jones of the Sun was named Sixth Player of the Year.
First-year head coach Becky Hammon garnered Coach of the Year. She is the third former WNBA player to win the award, but the first to receive the honor in her debut season and the only coach to win the award coaching the team for which she played (the Aces were previously the San Antonio Stars).