Four teams remain in the quest to capture the 2023 WNBA title. The higher seeds all won their playoff series via sweep save for one. After the exciting action of the first round, it will be the Las Vegas Aces versus the Dallas Wings and the New York Liberty facing off against the Connecticut Sun in the next round.
No. 1 Las Vegas Aces vs. No. 4 Dallas Wings
Regular season: Las Vegas won, 3-1
First-round recap: The Aces began their title defense by cruising past the Chicago Sky in two games. MVP candidate A’ja Wilson submitted a playoff career-high 38 points alongside 16 rebounds, three steals, and four blocks in the series-clinching win over the Sky.
The Wings, meanwhile, survived a shootout against the Atlanta Dream in their first playoff game. Atlanta’s Rhyne Howard erupted for 36 points, including eight 3-pointers, setting the record for most points and triples in a playoff debut. But the Wings weathered the storm to pull off the comeback victory after being down by 20 points. It was the biggest come-from-behind victory in playoff history since 2014. In their second meeting, the Wings didn’t allow any chance for an upset as they held the lead for the majority of the game en route to a semifinal appearance.
Key matchup: Wilson is on pace to have another solid postseason after the first round. The priority of the Wings is how to limit the two-time MVP using their post players. Satou Sabally and Natasha Howard will likely have the assignment to slow down Wilson. Sabally, named Most Improved Player, is enjoying a career year while Howard is a former Defensive Player of the Year. The battle in the paint will be a key factor in this series and it’ll be interesting to see how Wilson will operate against Dallas’s frontcourt.
Another thing to keep an eye on is who Alysha Clark will guard. The newly awarded Sixth Player of the Year is as versatile as they come on the defensive end. She has the foot speed and the size to give Arike Ogunbowale problems while also having the length to keep up with Satou Sabally.
Winning blueprint: The Wings ended the regular season as the best rebounding team in the league with 38.7 rebounds per game. They have the personnel in Sabally, Howard, Teaira McCowan, Kalani Brown, and Awak Kuier to dominate the paint, especially on the Aces who have a thin frontcourt. They have to control the glass to kickstart their running game.
The Aces can counter in the frontcourt matchup with their explosive backcourt. They have a three-headed monster in Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, and Chelsea Gray, who can each turn the tide of a game. It’s been hard for any team to trade punches with the Aces in the perimeter, mainly because of these three stars. Wilson will have hands full so look for either or all of the three to step up big time.
No. 2 New York Liberty vs. No. 3 Connecticut Sun
Regular season: New York won, 4-0
First-round recap: The Liberty came from a dogfight against the Washington Mystics. Both teams fought tooth and nail for two games. When the dust settled, Liberty’s overwhelming talent persevered. In the first game, it was Sabrina Ionescu who caught fire late to finish with 29 points. The Liberty then had all the answers to finish the second game in overtime and win the series. Breanna Stewart finished with 27 points in Game 2.
The Sun needed an extra game to thwart the Minnesota Lynx, but in the end, they proved why they were the higher seed team by dominating the third game on the road. Alyssa Thomas poured a total of 69 points, 17 rebounds, and 28 assists in three games.
Key matchup: The headline of this playoff battle will be about the two MVP contenders Alyssa Thomas and Breanna Stewart. These two will be relied heavily on by their squads. However, they might not be matched up a ton given the difference in position and playing style. DeWanna Bonner will likely be the primary defender for Stewart with Thomas switching on certain occasions. The question for the Sun is who will stay in front of Jonquel Jones? Jones spent her first five seasons in Connecticut and won the MVP award in 2021. Now she will torment her former team with her size and two-way presence. The Sun have been solid defensively despite losing Brionna Jones but it will be a tall task to cover both Stewart and Jones in the shaded area.
Winning blueprint: The Liberty are loaded from top to bottom and they don’t necessarily need eye-popping numbers from Stewart to carry them. Ionescu can singlehandedly change the momentum of a game, and the same could be said about Jones, or even their bench with Betnijah Laney, Kayla Thornton, and Marine Johannes. As long as they get their offensive rhythm, they’ll be hard to stop.
For the Sun, it starts and ends with Thomas. She’s the team’s best player and best chance to pull off an upset against New York. That being said, no one person can win an entire best-of-five series. They’ll need other players to step up, specifically from their shooters. Natisha Hiedeman, Tiffany Hayes, Rebecca Allen, Dijonai Carrington, and Tyasha Harris have to play their A-game and be ready for the passes that will come their way from Thomas. 2023 WNBA Coach of the Year Stephanie White will need to come up with a scheme to maximize Thomas and their role players.