After a seven-week regular season that seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye, the WNBA Playoffs are finally here for eight of the 12 teams in the league. On Tuesday night, postseason action officially began when the bottom four teams in the playoff field battled in the single-elimination first round at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
To start things off, No. 7 Connecticut Sun defeated No. 6 Chicago Sky, while No. 5 Phoenix Mercury beat No. 8 Washington Mystics in stunning fashion to end the night. With that result, both No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks and No. 4 Minnesota Lynx, who received first-round byes, finally know who they will face in the single-elimination second round on Thursday.
Phoenix will start things off in the second round at 6 p.m. CT on Thursday on ESPN2 against Minnesota. That game will be followed by Connecticut and Los Angeles at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2.
Those four teams will battle in a one-game playoff to see who advances to the best-of-five semifinal round against either No. 1 Las Vegas Aces or No. 2 Seattle Storm beginning Sunday afternoon (broadcast schedule is listed below).
With the second round set moving on in the WNBA Playoffs, let’s go back and take a look at both of the first-round matchups and also point out some Lynx connections that were featured in the opening round contests.
NO. 7 CONNECTICUT SUN 94, NO. 6 CHICAGO SKY 81
To kick off the postseason on Tuesday night, the first matchup of the night featured the sixth-seeded Chicago Sky taking on the seventh-seeded Connecticut Sun. Chicago returned the playoffs once again in 2020 after doing so in 2019 as the No. 5 seed. A year ago, the Sky defeated No. 8 Phoenix in the first round and lost to No. 4 Las Vegas in the second round.
Connecticut was able to grab one of the final playoff spots this season a year after earning the No. 2 seed and eventually falling to the top-seeded Washington Mystics 3-2 in the WNBA Finals.
In Tuesday night’s first-round contest, Connecticut was able to come out on top to advance to the single-elimination second round, beating the short-handed Chicago squad. The Sun was led by Alyssa Thomas with 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists and DeWanna Bonner with 23 points and 12 rebounds. On the other side, the Sky was led by Allie Quigley with 19 points and Gabby Williams with 16 points and five rebounds.
Connecticut will advance to take on No. 3 Los Angeles in the second round of the postseason on Thursday night at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2 with a trip to the semifinals to play either No. 1 Las Vegas or No. 2 Seattle.
The game between the Sky and Sun featured a few faces on both teams that Minnesota fans should recognize.
For Chicago, it is led by head coach and general manager James Wade, who spent two seasons as an assistant coach with the Lynx under Cheryl Reeve from 2017-18. Wade took over in his role with the Sky prior to the 2019 season, winning Coach of the Year honors in his first year in Chicago. The Sky also feature former Lynx guard Sydney Colson, who played in Minnesota briefly during the 2019 campaign.
For Connecticut, second-year guard Natisha Hiedeman is on its roster, a former Lynx draft pick. Minnesota drafted Hiedeman with the No. 18 selection in the 2019 WNBA Draft, later traded Hiedeman to Connecticut on draft night for guard Lexie Brown.
During the 2020 regular season, Minnesota swept both Chicago and Connecticut 2-0 in the two-game season series against the squads. The Lynx beat the Sky 83-81 on July 30 and 86-83 on Sept. 2, while topping the Sun 77-69 in the season opener on July 26 and 78-69 on Aug. 1.
NO. 5 PHOENIX MERCURY 85, NO. 8 WASHINGTON MYSTICS 84
In the second and final first-round contest to tip off the WNBA Playoffs on Tuesday night came between the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury and eighth-seeded Washington Mystics.
Phoenix entered the playoffs as the highest-seeded team taking part in the first round of action on Tuesday. The Mercury found themselves in the single-elimination opening round for a second straight year, a season after losing to the fifth-seeded Chicago Sky to end their year.
Washington claimed the eighth and final playoff spot in the final game of the 2020 regular season just a few days ago, and are faced with the task of taking on a tough Mercury squad a year after Washington claimed the WNBA title against Connecticut in 2019.
In Tuesday night’s nightcap in the first round, the Mercury ended the first night of the playoffs in a stunning way, battling from behind and hitting a game-winning shot at the buzzer to avoid an upset. Shey Peddy hit a three in the corner while time expired to lift Phoenix to an 85-84 win and onto the next round. The Mercury were led by Skylar Diggins-Smith with 24 points, six rebounds and five assists and Diana Taurasi with 23 points, six assists and four rebounds. The Mystics were led by Leilani Mitchell with 25 points and four assists and Emma Meesseman with 18 points and four assists.
Phoenix will advance to take on No. 4 Minnesota in the second round of the postseason on Thursday night at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2 with a trip to the semifinals to play either No. 1 Las Vegas or No. 2 Seattle.
Like in the first game of the night, the second game between Phoenix and Washington also included some familiar faces to Minnesota fans.
Current Mystics assistant coach Asjha Jones is a former Lynx forward, playing in Minnesota during the 2015 championship season. In the final year of her playing career in 2015, Jones appeared in 31 games for the Lynx. Washington center Alaina Coates also used to play for Minnesota, spending some time with the Lynx during the 2019 season.
Washington head coach and general manager Mike Thibault is the father of current Minnesota Gophers women’s basketball associate head coach Carly Thibault-Dudonis, who is on the staff of Gophers head coach and former Lynx great Lindsay Whalen. Whalen was also drafted into the WNBA by Thibault when he was with Connecticut in 2004.
Phoenix features Nia Coffey, who is from St. Paul and went on to play collegiately at Northwestern. Coffey, the daughter of former Timberwolves forward Richard Coffey and sister of former Gophers men’s basketball standout and current Los Angeles Clippers guard Amir Coffey, is in her fourth WNBA season in 2020.
During the 2020 regular season, Minnesota split the two-game season series against both Phoenix and Washington. Against the Mercury, the Lynx won the first game 90-80 on Aug. 21, falling in second game on Aug. 30 by a score of 83-79. Against the Mystics, the Lynx once again took the first game 68-48 on Aug. 11, dropping the second game 89-86 on Sept. 8.
Below is the schedule breakdown of the two second-round matchups on Thursday night and how the semifinal round looks leading into Sunday.
SECOND ROUND (single-elimination game):
Thursday: No. 5 Phoenix vs. No. 4 Minnesota, 6 p.m. CT, ESPN2
Thursday: No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 3 Los Angeles, 8 p.m. CT, ESPN2
SEMIFINAL ROUND (best-of-five series):
Game 1 — Sunday: TBD, 12 p.m. CT, ESPN
Game 1 — Sunday: TBD, 2 p.m. CT, ABC
Game 2 — Tuesday, Sept. 22: TBD, 5 p.m. CT, ESPN2
Game 2 — Tuesday, Sept. 22: TBD, 7 p.m. CT, ESPN2
Game 3 — Thursday, Sept. 24: TBD, 6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2
Game 3 — Thursday, Sept. 24: TBD, 8:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2
Game 4 (if necessary) — Sunday, Sept. 27: TBD, 12 p.m. CT, ESPN
Game 4 (if necessary) — Sunday, Sept. 27: TBD, 2 p.m. CT, ABC
Game 5 (if necessary) — Tuesday, Sept. 29: TBD, 6 p.m. CT, ESPN2
Game 5 (if necessary) — Tuesday, Sept. 29: TBD, 8 p.m. CT, ESPN2