The WNBA playoff field is finally set and will tipoff Tuesday now that the league’s abridged 22-game season has come to an end.
The postseason will begin Tuesday with the Sky facing Connecticut and the defending champion Washington Mystics taking on Diana Taurasi and Phoenix in a single elimination games in the opening round.
It went down to the last day — and the last game — of the regular season before the field was set.
Las Vegas and Seattle already knew Sunday they would be the top seeds in the postseason before their matchup on the season’s final day. The Aces clinched the No. 1 seed beating the short-handed Storm, who were missing stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird to foot injuries. Both have have a week to rest as Seattle and Las Vegas both earned double-byes into the best-of-5 semifinal series that will begin on Sunday.
It’s the first time that the Aces are the top seed. They were in a three-way battle for No. 1 spot and over a 24-hour span had to beat Los Angeles on Saturday and Seattle on Sunday to secure the berth.
“Who would have thunk it?” coach Bill Laimbeer said after the win Sunday. “We end up with the best record in the league for the regular season. That’s a pretty good accomplishment for our basketball team. ... We realize we’ve won nothing. We put ourselves in a position to get into a series with only four teams remaining and that’s an accomplishment in itself.”
While Las Vegas and Seattle played for seeding on Sunday, the Mystics were playing to get in.
Washington needed a victory in its final game, beating Atlanta, to give the Mystics the final spot in the playoffs and a chance to repeat as WNBA champions — a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Los Angeles did it in 2001-02.
“The work we’ve done the last few weeks when most teams would have quit has paid off,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “It’s a great, great testament to how they’ve hung in. It’s just a wonderful feeling anytime you win. But to do it how we’ve done to get in, it’s a great feeling.”
The Mystics, who lost 12 of 13 games during a stretch in the season, have now reached the playoffs four years in a row and in seven of the past eight years. This might have been their most improbable appearance over that stretch since the team was missing four starters from last season’s championship run including league MVP Elena Delle Donne.
There is no margin for error in the postseason. The league switched to the single-elimination format for the first two rounds of the playoffs in 2016.
Los Angeles and Minnesota earned byes into the second round by finishing third and fourth and await the winners of Tuesday night’s games.
Some other playoff tidbits to know:
TOP SEED ADVANTAGE
Since the league changed its playoff format, only once has a team not seeded in the top two advanced to the finals. Washington did it as the three seed in 2018 beating second-ranked Atlanta. The last three years the No. 1 seed has won the championship. That could change this year since the playoffs are being played in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, and there is no travel between games. Also with no fans, teams have no real home-court advantage except for the artificial one created by the league.
Las Vegas has been able to wear down teams with its incredible bench, led by reigning sixth-woman of the year Dearica Hamby. The Aces set a WNBA record with its reserves averaging 35 points a game — topping the old mark held by Minnesota of 33.9 set in 2008. Las Vegas has been able to stay healthy all season as the Aces are the only team that didn’t lose any players to injury once they entered the bubble.
The Minnesota Lynx are expected to have Sylvia Fowles back for the playoffs after the star center missed the last month as she dealt with a calf injury.
“We were already in a place with her when we were managing her calf where she had short stints anyway,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “If we’re fortunate enough to have her that would be the mind set. No way am I bringing Sylvia Fowles off the bench. If she’s healthy enough, she’s starting.”
Connecticut became the third team in league history to start a season 0-5 and still make the postseason. The Sun’s backcourt of Jasmine Thomas (foot) and Briann January (hand) were bothered by injuries down the stretch and for Connecticut to make a run in the postseason the pair will need to be healthy. ... Diana Taurasi is 6-0 in single-elimination games since the league changed its playoff format. ... Chicago has the top playmaker in Courtney Vandersloot, but struggled down the stretch once they lost Azura Stevens (knee) and Diamond DeShields (personal reasons). The Sky lost six of their final eight games.