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Inside The W With Michelle Smith: WNBA Semifinals Burning Questions

Two semifinals series are already on the brink. And it’s time to ask some more burning questions as we head into Sunday’s pivotal Game 3 elimination games.

Can L.A. continue its home domination away from home? The Sparks have won 15 in a row at Staples Center, which would leave them feeling pretty confident, even in the face of a pair of elimination games on their home floor. But L.A. isn’t going to be playing for its postseason life in the comforts of its home gym. Instead, the Sparks will look to get a win out in Long Beach, a tougher task. The Sparks haven’t played at Cal State Long Beach since 2016 when they played the opening game in the semifinals in the Pyramid, a game they won 95-75. If the Sparks win Sunday, Game 4 will move back to Staples Center. In the season series between these two games, which Connecticut leads 3-2, the home team has won every game.

Will the Sparks get a breakout game in the backcourt in Game 3? It’s been a tough series for Sparks All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray so far. She is shooting 7 for 20 from the floor, 0-for-2 from beyond the 3-point arc. The four points she scored in Game 1 was her first game scoring in single-digits since July 9. The Sparks need more from her – something more akin to the 21 points she put up in the second-round game against Seattle. Riquna Williams faces a similar challenge. After a miserable 1-for-9 shooting night in Game 1, she rebounded to score 14 points in Game 2, seven of those in the first quarter. In order for L.A. to climb out of a 2-0 hole, Gray and Williams need to provide more offensive punch.

Can Alyssa Thomas continue to carry the Sun to a win on the road and into the Finals? Thomas is playing with labral tears in both of her shoulders, yet those shoulders were strong enough to carry the Sun to a pair of impressive postseason wins on their home floor in the first two games of this series, exorcising the demons of previous playoff elimination and proving why the Sun wanted to earn a top-two seed so badly. On Tuesday in Game 1, Thomas had 22 points and 10 rebounds. On Thursday, she finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds. She is playing hurt and her injuries are limiting her mobility, but not her drive to win. She is the steady presence on the floor for a team that is moving into uncharted playoff territory, a team with an 8-9 away record this season that would love to pick up a big road win and vault straight to the Finals for the first time since 2005.

Are the Mystics ready to close out this series on the road? Washington has put Las Vegas in a very precarious position – needing to win three straight games to salvage the series and a trip to the Finals. And to do it against a team that hasn’t lost three straight games since Elena Delle Donne was out of the lineup with a broken nose in the middle of the summer. But the Mystics are far from a one-woman team, even if that woman is one of the best players on the planet. Emma Meesseman dropped 30 points (tying a career-high) against the Aces on Thursday night in Game 2, and is averaging 28.5 points in two playoff games. Natasha Cloud is in do-everything mode, posting 18 points and 11 assists in Thursday’s win. Kristi Toliver and her championship experience are back to anchor the backcourt. The Mystics have won eight in a row and 14 of their last 15.

Can Kelsey Plum key the extension of this series for the Aces? Plum has had her ups and downs this season, but she has been stellar in the postseason to this point. And she was at her best Thursday night – in the starting lineup for the first time since August – when she put up 19 points with 10 assists and six rebounds from the point guard spot, the spot where she is most comfortable. If Plum is going to be THE difference maker going forward and tilt the balance of this series back in the Aces’ direction, her team needs her to be hitting shots from the perimeter. So far in the playoffs she is 5 of 10 from beyond the arc. And they need to her minimize turnovers against a Mystics team that will make you pay for every one. But as Cloud said, “She’s the focal point of our defense.” A testament to how well she is playing and a challenge going forward in the first WNBA postseason of her career.

Is anything going to get in the way of an all East Coast Finals series? It’s hard to imagine a scenario right now in which either Washington or Connecticut, who look deep, focused and consistent in their semifinals series so far, loses three in a row to lose their chance at a trip to the Finals. In the new era of WNBA postseasons that move forward without regard to conference, that would set up the first-ever all “Eastern Conference” championship series. In fact, the last Eastern Conference team to win a WNBA title was the Indiana Fever back in 2012.


Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.