Hello and welcome to the WNBA Playoffs!
Okay, we’re a little bit late to the party for the playoffs, as there’s already been two rounds of single elimination games. In the first set, everything went according to seeds as #6 Chicago smashed #7 Dallas and #5 Phoenix barely escaped #8 New York. Round Two put the winners of the previous rounds against the #3 and #4 seeds and both upsets came through. #5 Phoenix defeated #4 Seattle in overtime and #6 Chicago bounced #3 Minnesota.
Onwards and upwards to the WNBA Semifinals now, and this is where we pick things up. Why, you ask? Well, because former Marquette guard Natisha Hiedeman plays for the top seeded Connecticut Sun and we’re nothing if not massive Marquette homers around these parts. Semifinal play begins TONIGHT (if you’re reading this on Tuesday), so it’s probably a good time to do a schedule/preview article.
Connecticut finished the regular season with a record of 26-6, two games better than Las Vegas. They got there thanks to closing the regular season on a 14 game winning streak, so to a certain extent, it’s funny to think about back when the Sun were “only” 12-6 on the season. Connecticut went 12-3 against Eastern Conference opponents and 15-1 at home at Mohegan Sun Arena, so it seems like a pretty safe bet that they’re going to be favored in any playoff series just based on that home court advantage that they will hold throughout the playoffs.
The Sun have four players who average more than 10 points per game in the scoring department, led by Jonquel Jones and her 19.4 per contest. She’s averaging a double-double with 11.2 rebounds as well, and the rest of the stat line for the 6’6” native of the Bahamas is nothing to joke about: 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, 52% shooting from the field and 36% from behind the arc.
As for our favorite Sun, Natisha Hiedeman is the #1 option off the bench for head coach Curt Miller. She is one of four Sun players to play in all 32 games this season and she averages 20.1 minutes per game, which is a career best through her three seasons in the WNBA. Hiedeman is also posting a career high in points at 7.6 per game while chipping in 1.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. After shooting 46% from behind the arc as a rookie, Hiedeman bounced back from a “bad” shooting year in the Wubble at “only” 36% to knock down just short of 40% of her long range shots this season. Hiedeman is also the obvious candidate for the Sun’s Chief Vibes Officer, as evidenced by this pre-playoffs tweet from the team’s official account:
This the energy we’re bringing to the playoffs tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/1BnPdNvKjj— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) September 27, 2021
The key for the Sun taking a run at the WNBA title might be the return of Alyssa Thomas to the lineup. The 6’2” forward suffered an Achilles injury in January while playing for ZVVZ USK Praha in the Czech Republic and missed all of the WNBA season as a result..... except for the last two games. Now, both of those games were blowouts for the Sun, so not much was asked of Thomas as she averaged 5.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 17.5 minutes per game. But she’s averaging 11.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game for her 203 WNBA career, all with the Sun. The Sun were going to be a title contender without her after ripping off that 14 game winning streak to get to where they got in the regular season.... but they’ve got a little extra ceiling now that she’s available.
Let’s turn our attention to the Chicago Sky.
They earned the #6 seed in the playoffs with a record of 16-16 in the regular season and went 5-5 in their last 10 games before the playoffs. Kahleah Copper is the top scorer at 14.4 per game, and four more Sky players average at least 10.5 per game. WNBA legend Candace Parker is one of the four at 13.3/game, and she leads the team in rebounds at 8.4/game as well. Courtney Vandersloot is tops in the assists column at 8.6 per game, and so merely making it hard for her to distribute goes a long way towards disrupting what the Sky like to do. Of course, if that were easy to do, Vandersloot wouldn’t average over eight assists per game for the last five seasons running.
While Connecticut is the top seed and Chicago is a .500 ballclub, that doesn’t mean that this series isn’t without drama heading in to it. The two teams met three times this season, all in an 11 day span in June, and Chicago won two of the three. The Sky won 81-75 on June 17th and then 91-81 just two days later with both of those games happening at Wintrust Arena. Back in Connecticut, the Sun prevailed 74-58 on June 27th. However, all three games happened while Jonquel Jones was away from the Sun while representing her adopted home country of Bosnia and Herzegovina in EuroBasket. Adding an MVP candidate to the mix for one side should, in theory, change things an awful lot, but that’s why they play the games, right?
#1 Connecticut Sun vs #6 Chicago Sky
Game 1: Tuesday, September 28, 7pm Central, ESPN2
Game 2: Thursday, September 30, 7pm Central, ESPN2
Game 3: Sunday, October 3, Noon Central, ESPN
Game 4: Wednesday, October 6, 7pm Central, ESPN
Game 5 (if necessary): Friday, October 8, TBD, ESPN2