It's hard to top the pressure in the early stages of the WNBA playoffs.
Teams are immediately thrown into the fire with single-elimination showdowns in the first and second rounds, and the Chicago Sky and Seattle Storm passed their initial tests at home on Wednesday. Chicago defeated the Phoenix Mercury 105-76, while Seattle beat the Minnesota Lynx 84-74.
The battle between Seattle and Minnesota was particularly notable because they won the past two WNBA championships. The defending champions prevailed and will now face another win-or-go-home situation.
The second round is also single-elimination before the best-of-five semifinals and best-of-five WNBA Finals. The top-seeded Washington Mystics and second-seeded Connecticut Sun each received byes into the semifinals of a bracket that is re-seeded after each round, while the No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks and No. 4 Las Vegas Aces awaited Wednesday's winners.
Here is a look at the schedule for those impending second-round clashes and an updated bracket after victories for Chicago and Seattle.
WNBA Playoffs Second-Round Schedule and Broadcast Information
No. 6 Seattle Storm at No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks, Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN 2/WatchESPN
No. 5 Chicago Sky vs. No. 4 Las Vegas Aces, Sunday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN 2/WatchESPN
Chicago advanced with a commanding win, but injuries were the main story for the Mercury.
The visitors were already without Diana Taurasi because of a hamstring injury and temporarily lost Brittney Griner to a knee injury on Wednesday. She was helped to the locker room after suffering the injury while setting a screen in the second quarter and played only briefly with a knee brace in the second half before being sidelined.
Griner manager just six points, and Phoenix had no answer for the Sky when they ripped off a 12-0 run to start the second half.
Diamond DeShields darted through the Mercury defense with ease and finished with 25 points, while Astou Ndour and Stefanie Dolson each added 16 points in a balanced attack. Courtney Vandersloot was the only Chicago starter who didn't score in double figures, and she dished out 11 assists while adding nine points.
There was more drama in the second game, which was fitting for a matchup between the past two champions.
It is a testament to Seattle's depth that it is even in the playoffs considering it has missed 11-time All-Star Sue Bird and 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart for the entire season as a result of knee surgery and an Achilles injury, respectively.
The Storm not only made the playoffs, but they also had home-court advantage in the first round thanks to a 3-1 head-to-head record against the Lynx even though they both finished with 18-16 records.
They jumped out to a six-point halftime lead in front of those home fans and extended the advantage to double digits in the third quarter. However, Minnesota turned to Napheesa Collier for extended stretches, and her jumper cut the deficit to just three with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third.
Collier finished with 19 points, 10 boards and two steals against a Seattle defense that had trouble staying in front of her and contesting her looks at times. Minnesota also received 20 points from Damiris Dantas and 14 points from Sylvia Fowles, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Storm in the fourth despite remaining within striking distance.
Seattle's dynamic backcourt combination helped keep the visitors at bay. Jordin Canada stuffed the stat sheet with 26 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals, while Jewell Loyd finished with 22 points, three assists and three steals behind 3-of-4 shooting from deep.