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WBNA Playoffs Week Two Update

The first round of the 2023 WNBA playoffs finished as expected, without any surprises. The reigning champion Las Vegas Aces cruised confidently past the Chicago Sky in two games, while the No. 2 seed New York Liberty had to deal with a bit of a fight from the Mystics, but ultimately advanced. The No. 4 seed Dallas Wings handled the Atlanta Dream with ease, however, the Connecticut Sun had a scare against the Lynx but eventually handled business. The first round results lead to the intriguing semi finals lineup with the No. 1 Aces facing off against No. 4 Wings and No. 2 Liberty against No. 3 Connecticut Sun.

Courtesy of Michael Gonzales via Getty Images

The Aces have been on a roll in the playoffs, unwavering in their journey to reclaim their title. To the Aces, the Wings are just another stop on the way to being back-to-back champions. The Aces have dominated so far in the playoffs, outsourcing opponents by 64 points in three games- a WNBA record. In the first game of the five game series the Aces routed the Wings 97-83, while shooting 53.6% from the field and winning the rebound battle 36-29. The Wings did little to make the Aces uncomfortable, and the Aces were able to dictate the game and impose their will. Two-time MVP A’ja Wilson shot 71.4% for the Aces, and racked up 34 points, while guards Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum contributed a combined 10 3-pointers.

In game two the Wings need to focus more on team defense and getting help side, especially on A’ja Wilson. Additionally, Arike Ogunbawale needs to be more of a factor. She is the Wings’ second-leading scorer during the regular season, but against the Aces she struggled with only 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting including 0 of 8 off the dribble and 3 of 10 on contested shots. The Wings will need to assert themselves and be more aggressive in game two if they want a prayer of beating the formidable Aces.

Courtesy of Chris Marion via Getty Images

The first game of the series between the No. 2 seed New York Liberty and No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun provided a more interesting result as the Sun stunned the Liberty 78-63. The Liberty struggled offensively scoring a season low in points and shooting percentage (33.8%). The Sun were 0-4 against the Liberty during the regular season, but their stifling defense and will to win propelled them to an unforeseen victory. The Sun won the first quarter 25-21, but were down by three at half. In the third quarter they bounced back, scoring 28 points and holding the Liberty to 15. In the last 20 minutes of the game the Liberty only scored 23 points. This second half momentum thrust the Sun into the first major upset of the postseason, and handed the Liberty their first playoff loss of 2023. The Sun’s comeback etched them in the history books as the seventh team, and first since 2011, to win a playoff game by at least 15 after being down at half.

The Liberty attributed the loss to a lack of energy, which was evident to anyone watching. The Liberty lacked their typical New York flare especially from deep. The Liberty allowed the Sun to dictate the game without much protest. Connecticut typically flourishes off of ferocity and toughness which was present on Sunday, and coupled with the Liberty’s absence of vigor, equaled a recipe for Connecticut’s dominance. The key to the Sun’s success- keeping the Liberty from breaking out and going on scoring runs. Game one was the Sun’s first time holding the Liberty to under 80 points this season. The Liberty will need to respond better to the Sun’s defensive pressure- if they continue to score less than 65 points their championship dreams are in jeopardy.

New York will also need to rebound more aggressively and unite defensively in order to generate points in transition and create more offensive opportunities. The Liberty lost the rebound battle 35-30 to the tenacious Sun which can’t happen in game two. The Liberty, who are known for their three point shooting, shot just 8 of 27 from behind the arc. Having an off night from three is manageable, but not when you lose the battle in the paint 34-22. The Liberty also struggled with possession, turning the ball over 14 times, leading to 13 Connecticut points. While struggling with turnovers, the Liberty scored zero fast break points for the first time in 2023.

While the Liberty struggled both offensively and defensively, with no exceptional performances from their stars, Connecticut’s power couple- fiances, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner- showed up ready to play. Bonner, who is averaging 21.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in the playoffs, had 20 points in the win, and Alyssa Thomas held Liberty Star Breanna Stewart scoreless from 3 (0-8) and only 7 for 25 from the field. Other Liberty stars including former Sun player Jonquel Jones and Sabrina Ionescu were relatively quiet, never getting into rhythm. The Sun’s impressive defensive performance was not a one time occurrence, Connecticut’s 98.8 defensive rating was second best in the league this season. The Liberty recognized that game one was not representative of New York basketball, and understood they need to play better in game two. Coach Sandy Brondello called the game the Liberty’s worst game of the season and know they need to win the next game, which will also be at home. The Liberty are still predicted to make it to the championship, but if they continue to play like they did in game one, Connecticut has a solid chance at an upset.

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