Welcome to a whole new world. The WNBA playoffs are back, with a twist! Gone are the single elimination games, and in its place are best of three series in the first round. We’re all about more basketball around these parts, so this is a welcome development.
Kicking off the proceedings will be the New York Liberty! It’s been a tumultuous year for Sandy Brondello and friends, but they got good at the right time and fought their way to get here. They clinched their playoff berth with a huge win against the Atlanta Dream on Sunday afternoon in the regular season finale.
Waiting for them will be the Chicago Sky. The Sky won the Finals last year and are looking to be the first repeat Champions since the 2001 and 2002 Los Angeles Sparks. They were locked in to the two seed by the time their season finale started, but they managed to obliterate the Phoenix Mercury anyway. The W also was a single season franchise record of 26. Good way to wrap things up, if I may say so myself.
Where to follow the game
ESPN2 has us covered. Tip after 8:00 p.m. ET.
Nothing doing for the Liberty.
Li Yueru left the team to go prepare for the upcoming FIBA World Championships and will not be with the Sky. Chicago will turn to a ten-player rotation.
Slowing down Kahleah Copper will be essential for the Liberty. Copper is one of the best cutters and finishers at the rim this season and is the reigning Finals MVP. Copper took that success from last year and had the best season of her career. She averaged career highs in points (15.7), rebounds (5.7) and assists (2.3) in 30 minutes a night. She gives the Sky a top tier option on the perimeter that can get her own shot and make big plays down the stretch. We asked Betnijah Laney yesterday at media availability what the key to slowing Copper down is, and she told us:
I think it’ll start with the one on one defense. Just doing everything we can to keepher in front but then also to have each other’s back. Making sure we’re in the gaps. Making sure that we’re alert when when she is penetrating. Being able to help if the if the one on one coverage isn’t there.
Laney will have her hands full dealing with Copper. She and Rebecca Allen will be two of the main defenders on her, but it’ll take a total team effort like she said. Laney was reinserted into the starting five last week and has started to look like her old self. She gives the team great scoring punch from all three levels and someone you can turn to and get a shot when you absolutely need one. Playoff games get tighter, more intense, and more physical as it progresses, and having Laney back is a godsend for the team.
Sabrina Ionescu has some more accolades to add to her growing collection. She was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Eastern Conference Player of the Month, and AP All WNBA first team as she helped lead the Liberty charge to the playoffs. She struggled on Sunday as she went 1-12 from the field with six turnovers, but throw that out the window. She’s been wonderful all season long and is always a good bet to bounce back. Ionescu has had some sparkling moments against the Sky this year, and her ability to get going in the fourth will be essential in what should be a close series. Rebekah Gardner played Ionescu really well in the previous matchups, and the Sky will be counting on her a tremendous deal to battle with Ionescu.
The forward matchup between Natasha Howard and Emma Meesseman will be a fascinating one. Howard has had her issues with the Sky’s size, but James Wade knows Howard’s track record and isn’t taking her lightly:
“She’s a helluva player. We just have to do what we can to contain her. You let her get loose and she can exploit it. She’s a three-time champion for a reason. We just have to make sure that a lot of our efforts will go into containing her.”
Howard’s ability to finish at the cup will be critical, especially if the Liberty’s three point shooting isn’t there. Big Meesse has been excellent for the Sky in her debut in Chicago + return to the W after a year away. Meesseman can give you buckets in the post and can stretch the floor out and hit some three pointers.
The Liberty bench will need to be massive tonight. They have championship experience on the second unit with Sami Whitcomb, but Marine Johannes figures to be the key in this series. Johannes shined on Sunday against the Dream as she was instant offense coming off the bench and gave the crowd a jolt of energy as they cheered the team on. You need buckets in a hurry and having Johannes running with the second team ensures the Liberty have an elite shot creator on the court at all times.
Player to watch: Candace Parker
The legend will look to do it one more time. Like Ionescu, Parker was named to the AP All-WNBA team and her all around game has been awesome as usual. Parker can initiate the offense, score in the low block, and is the captain of a fantastic defense. Superstars turn their games up come playoff time, and Parker is always a good bet to have her imprint on the game.
Stefanie Dolson had her best game of the season on Sunday, and now that she’s going up against her former team, knows that it’s going to be a battle. The Liberty often come out cold to start games, and Dolson is fully aware of the problems that may cause against a team as great as Chicago:
This is playoff time. So you know, there’s been a few games where we’ve gotten down early and we’ve had to kind of climb our way back and I think that’s something that we can’t do against them. We’re gonna have to come out extremely high energy, high pace, and just have that intensity that a playoff game needs. So if we have issues matching their energy, then we shouldn’t be here.
That starts with winning the rebounding battle. NY’s inability to keep the Sky off the offensive boards cost them dearly back in June, and everyone’s going to need to scrap it out on the glass.
From the Vault
We’ll begin the WNBA playoffs where things ended last fall.
- Game Notes: New York Liberty - New York Liberty
- Game Notes: Chicago Sky - Chicago Sky
- New York Liberty control own destiny in playoff chase - Doug Feinberg - AP
- Sky poised to begin title defense against Liberty - STATS
- This Is the Sabrina Ionescu We Were Waiting For - Victor Mather - New York Times
- WNBA Playoff Preview Guide Chicago Sky (vs. New York Liberty): Are monster Sloot games the answer? - Zach Ward - Swish Appeal
- WNBA playoffs 2022: Why the WNBA is better off with the New York Liberty in the postseason - M.A. Voepel - ESPN