The 2022 WNBA playoff field came into full focus Sunday.
The Las Vegas Aces guaranteed themselves the top seed following a hard-fought 109-100 win over the Seattle Storm. The defending champion Chicago Sky have to settle for the No. 2 seed, with a rematch of the Commissioner's Cup final potentially on tap.
The WNBA adopted a new format for the playoffs starting this year. Gone are the single-elimination games in the first two rounds in lieu of a more traditional postseason structure. The first round will be a best-of-three affair before best-of-five series in the semifinals and WNBA Finals.
Here are the four first-round matchups with the playoff bracket now set.
- No. 1 Las Vegas Aces vs. No. 8 Phoenix Mercury
- No. 2 Chicago Sky vs. No. 7 New York Liberty
- No. 3 Connecticut Sun vs. No. 6 Dallas Wings
- No. 4 Seattle Storm vs. No. 5 Washington Mystics
Full playoff schedule is available at WNBA.com
Play is scheduled to begin Wednesday with two games. The Sky will host New York Liberty at 8 p.m. ET, and the Phoenix Mercury will hit the road to play the Aces at 10 p.m. ET.
With six teams locked in, the battle for the final two postseason seeds went down to the final day. The Mercury, Liberty, Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream were all separated by one game.
The Lynx were the first team eliminated from the group thanks to their 90-83 loss to the Connecticut Sun. The defeat meant the legendary career of Sylvia Fowles has come to an end.
The 36-year-old leaves as one of the greatest players in league history.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Arguably the WNBA's best center of all-time. Sylvia Fowles' career was special 🙏 <a href="https://twitter.com/HighlightHER?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HighlightHER</a> <br><br>-2x WNBA champion<br>-2x Finals MVP<br>-1x WNBA MVP<br>-4x Olympic Gold Medalist<br>-8x All-Star<br>-4x DPOY <a href="https://t.co/qIZWrI0Jp5">pic.twitter.com/qIZWrI0Jp5</a>
The battle for the top seed went down to the wire as well, with the Aces and Sky deadlocked at 25-10 with one game to play.
Chicago already laid out its championship credentials last year.
Rather than just a case of a team getting hot at the right time, the Sky finally played up to their full potential in the 2021 playoffs following a regular season in which their 16-16 record perfectly encapsulated their inconsistency on the court.
In 2022, James Wade's squad has shown that success was no fluke. WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper best exemplifies that as the 27-year-old wing was averaging career highs in points (15.9), rebounds (5.7) and assists (2.3) heading into Sunday.
Emma Meesseman has provided a dimension the Sky didn't have in 2021, too. The Belgian forward averaged 12.5 points on 56.8 percent shooting along with 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals.
The Los Angeles Sparks were the last WNBA champion to successfully defend their title when they swept the New York Liberty in 2002. History isn't on Chicago's side, yet nobody will be too surprised if the Sky are once again the last team left standing.
For the Aces and Sun, this postseason presents another opportunity to finally get over the hump.
Las Vegas advanced to the WNBA semifinals in each of the last three years and made the 2020 WNBA Finals. Still, a title has proved elusive for A'ja Wilson, who could be on her way to a second league MVP honor.
Hiring Becky Hammon as head coach could be the missing ingredient since her arrival has coincided with an increased reliance on the three ball. The Aces were tied with the Liberty for made three-pointers per game (9.5) prior to Sunday, which is a significant contrast to finishing 11th (5.1) in 2021.
Hammon has also helped to unleash Kelsey Plum, who finally had her long-awaited breakthrough by putting up 20.1 points per game.
Still, an already top-heavy roster will have to open the playoffs without Dearica Hamby, presenting Hammon with a major tactical challenge ahead of her first postseason in charge.
For the Sun, this is yet another year in which fans are left to wonder whether Connecticut's regular-season performance can translate to the next stage.
The Sun are first in net rating (9.5), per WNBA.com, and boast a wealth of depth and experience. Five different players averaged double figures in scoring, all of whom have been with the team for multiple years.
However, fans have seen this story play out before. Last year, Connecticut's collective strength wasn't enough to overcome the Sky, who simply had more talent and star power.
Should the Sun once again fall short of a title, you have to wonder whether something drastic is needed, be it a coaching change or a major shake-up to the roster—something similar to the Toronto Raptors trading DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard in 2018.