The 2021 WNBA playoff semifinals kicked off Tuesday night with two exciting games. In Game 1 of the night, the Chicago Sky emerged with a 101-95 victory over the Connecticut Sun in double overtime to take a 1-0 lead in their series. The Las Vegas Aces later rebounded from an early deficit to beat a highly competitive Phoenix Mercury 96-90 to go up 1-0 in their clash.
Courtney Vandersloot led the way for Sky with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists to record the second triple-double in playoff history and set a new playoff assists record. Candace Parker, meanwhile, added 22 points, five rebounds and six assists in a typical overall performance.
Jonquel Jones, who received his MVP trophy earlier today, finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, but it wasn’t enough for the Sun, who struggled to get started. on offense in addition to making trips to the Free Line of Fire. The Sun closed the season on a 14-game winning streak, and it was the first loss for them since July 3.
In Vegas, the Aces were propelled by the brilliant performances of their long-distance line of Riquna Williams (26), Kelsey Plum (25) and Chelsea Gray (17), who totaled 68 points overnight. A’ja Wilson added 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists, including a number of key baskets down the stretch.
As for the Mercury, it was Brittney Griner’s show as usual. She finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists in another impressive playoff performance. Unfortunately for them, they just couldn’t find a way to get enough saves and will now have to play from behind in the series.
Here are some key points of the evening:
Sky and Sun produce an instant classic
The first two rounds of the playoffs provided two great games on the wire, and it looks like we’ll just keep that trend going. Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away with the moment and declare that the games or performance are better than they actually were because they are so fresh on your mind. But this is not one of those times. It’s not an overreaction to call this game an instant classic.
Except for a buzzer batsman, he had everything you could ask for in a playoff game. Stars such as Vandersloot, Jones and Parker put in strong performances; there were 14 header changes and 15 draws as the two teams came and went; the outcome was uncertain until the dying seconds of second overtime.
Speaking of which, this was only the fifth time in playoff history that a game has been doubled in overtime. No one will forget this one anytime soon, except maybe Sun fans who want to erase it from their memory.
Vandersloot makes history
Courtney Vandersloot has led the WNBA in assists for the past five seasons and set a number of records along the way. Now she has a few more to add to her ever-growing list. Vandersloot hosted an absolute clinic on Tuesday night, finishing with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists to register just the second triple-double in playoff history and set the playoff assists record.
Whenever the Sky really needed a bucket, Vandersloot has. In second overtime, in particular, Vandersloot came out on top with a few clutch advances. With both teams exhausted, neither could do anything on offense, and the score was tied 93-93 with just over two minutes to go.
That’s when Vandersloot dropped a magnificent lob over defense to Parker to put Sky in front. Next time around, she executed the pick-and-roll to perfection, freeing Stefanie Dolson for an easy layup. All of a sudden the Sky was up 97-93 and never hung out again.
Ace guards offer a new dynamic
The Aces have been contenders for quite some time now, reaching the semi-finals in 2019 and the finals in 2020. However, against the top teams they have failed, largely due to their attacking style. They are one of the few teams that haven’t embraced 3-point shooting and, over the past few seasons, haven’t had much in the way of dribbling creation. It’s a problem in the playoffs when the game slows down and becomes more physical.
It doesn’t appear to be a problem this time around. At least not if game 1 is any indication. Kelsey Plum is back after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, and the Aces have added veteran guards Chelsey Gray and Riquna Williams in free agency. Tuesday night, this trio accumulated 68 of the 96 points of the Aces.
With those three in the lead, the Aces scored nine 3-pointers, which may not seem like too much, but it’s the second most they’ve made in a playoff game since this race started in 2019. But it wasn’t even the 3s as long as it was the threat they provided to create their own shots and make plays out of dribbling.
All three probably won’t be so hot in every game, but they’ll add some much-needed extra momentum to the Aces offense. There is still a long way to go, but it could make all the difference as the Aces continue their drive. first title in franchise history.
Wilson’s late run sidelines the game
A’ja Wilson didn’t perform badly in Game 1, but for most of the night she was pretty quiet while the Aces Guards ran the show. Heading into the fourth quarter, she was still in single digits in terms of scoring and was far from the dominant force we know she can be.
But when the game is in balance, the big players make the big bets. That’s exactly what Wilson did down the home stretch in the fourth quarter as she helped put the game away. Up double digits at one point in the frame, the Aces lead was down to just four points after a bucket of Brittney Griner with just over four minutes to go.
Wilson made sure the Mercury never came close. On three straight possessions, she hit a midrange jumper, relaxed in transition for a layup, and smashed the glass for a pullback. All in all, she had a personal run 6-0 to reduce the Aces lead to 10 with three minutes remaining. The Mercury’s hung around, but they never threatened seriously again.