The WNBA Playoffs 2021 presented by Google tips off today with a pair of single-elimination first-round matchups, beginning with the No. 6 seed Chicago Sky hosting the No. 7 seed Dallas Wings at Wintrust Arena at 8:00pm/ET on ESPN2.
Chicago (16-16) is making its third straight playoff appearance, while Dallas (14-18) is in the postseason for the first time since 2018. Since the current playoff format was introduced in 2016, the Sky are 2-2 in single-elimination round games and the Wings are 0-2. The winner of this game will advance to face either No. 3 Minnesota or No. 4 Seattle in the second round in another single-elimination game.
Season Series (DAL won 2-1)
- June 30: CHI 91, DAL 81
- July 2: DAL 100, CHI 91
- Aug 17: DAL 80, CHI 76
Against the Sky this season, Arike Ogunbowale led all Wings scorers at 18.3 ppg but shot just 34.0% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc – her third-lowest shooting percentages against any opponent. While Ogunbowale struggled with her shot, Allisha Gray was on fire as she shot 61.3% from the field and 72.7% (8-11) from 3-point range in three games against the Sky this season. Isabelle Harrison averaged 16.7 points on 61.1% shooting and five rebounds against Chicago this season.
Allie Quigley led the Sky in scoring against the Wings at 15.7 ppg, shooting 50% from 3-point range (10-20), followed by Kahleah Copper (14.7 ppg), Azurá Stevens (13.0), Candace Parker (11.3) and Diamond DeShields (11.3), while Courtney Vandersloot averaged 11.0 assists – her second-highest average against any opponent this season.
Three Storylines to Watch
- How important is playoff experience?
To say there is a disparity in playoff experience between these two teams would be an understatement. The entire Wings roster has combined to play in only 10 playoff games, compared to 112 combined games for the Sky. Candace Parker (48), Allie Quigley (23) and Courtney Vandersloot (22) each have more playoff experience by themselves than the entire Wings roster, which has eight players making their postseason debut tonight. Of course, many of the young Wings have NCAA Tournament experience that they can lean on – who can forget Ogunbowale’s back-to-back game-winning shots in the Final Four?
- Is Candace the key to getting Chicago out of the single-elimination rounds?
The Sky were eliminated from the 2019 playoffs in a second-round elimination game thanks to one of the craziest shots in WNBA history – Dearica Hamby’s steal and 40-foot heave that stunned the Sky and kept them out of the semifinals. In 2020, the Sky were eliminated in the first round by the Connecticut Sun.
The Sky added Candace Parker in free agency and the two-time MVP has made her presence felt on her home-town team. While the Sky finished 16-16 on the season, they were 15-8 in the 23 games that Parker played; going just 1-8 in the nine games that she missed. As valuable as she was during the regular season, her impact may be even bigger in the playoffs as she brings the experience of two Finals appearances and a championship to a Chicago team that is trying to get back to the Finals for the first time since 2014.
- Who will be the X-Factor that steps up?
We know Arike is going to score. We know Sloot is going to dish and Allie will splash threes. But oftentimes playoff games are decided by players that step up and make a bigger impact than we’re used to seeing. Look at Chicago’s regular season finale – Diamond DeShields dropped 30 points off the bench after averaging 11.3 points over the course of the regular season.
Or Isabelle Harrison, who returned after missing two weeks with COVID-19, to drop 14 points on a perfect 7-7 shooting in Dallas’ win over Los Angeles to close the regular season. The Wings also just got Satou Sabally back in the lineup after she missed time due to a sore Achilles. Does Marina Mabrey catch fire from 3-point range? She is tied for third with three games this season with at least five 3-pointers made – one of which came against Chicago on July 2.
One Stat to Watch
Can the Sky limit the Wings on the offensive glass? Dallas has the lowest field goal percentage of any team in the postseason (42%), but led the WNBA in offensive rebounds (10.0 per game) and ranked second in second-chance points (12.3 per game). During the regular season, the Sky allowed the second-most second-chance points in the league (11.7 per game) and ranked 10th in defensive rebound percentage (69.0%).
The Clutch Factor
Both teams have plenty of experience in close games – the Sky went 7-10 and the Wings went 8-12 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. In games decided by three points or less, the Wings went 3-5, while the Sky went 1-3.
Arike Ogunbowale ranked fourth in the WNBA in clutch scoring with 46 points on 13-39 FG, 8-17 3P and 12-13 FT, while Marina Mabrey tied for eighth with 37 points on 11-25 FG, 2-12 3P and 13-15 FT.
Parker was Chicago’s top clutch scorer with 26 points over 10 games. She shot 9-25 FG, 2-6 3P and 6-6 FT. While Courtney Vandersloot led all players in clutch assists (24), she struggled with her shot in clutch situations, connecting on just 4-24 FG, 3-10 3P, 3-5 FT.