The top-seeded Washington Mystics will finally take the court this postseason when they welcome the Las Vegas Aces. As the WNBA’s No. 1 seed, Washington earned a double-bye through the first two rounds of the playoffs, so they’ll be well-rested for this semifinal opener.
The Aces, on the other hand, had to go through a few more dramatics to get here. The No. 4 seed was on the ropes just two days ago against the visiting Chicago Sky, in danger of getting bounced from the ever-perilous single-game elimination second round.
Of course, we all know how that ended.
The Aces will need a bit more magic if they’re to overcome the Mystics machine.
Washington won the regular-season series two games to one, and the cumulative point total was not close: The Mystics outscored the Aces 275-227 over three games. This, of course, included the infamous “earthquake game,” which had to be played across two separate dates due to tremors in the Las Vegas area.
Despite Mother Nature’s interference, the Mystics’ on-court dominance has been continuous. They’ll be in an even better position if starting guard Kristi Toliver is healthy; she hasn’t played since Aug. 8 due to a knee injury but she’s probable against the Aces. Toliver’s presence makes an already-scary Washington offense even more frightening. The Mystics have scored a ridiculous 114.7 points per 100 possessions with her on the floor this season.
To offset the Mystics’ perimeter shooting, Las Vegas will need its frontcourt to play to its full potential. A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage form arguably the top post duo in the league. With second-round heroine and Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby backing them up, it’s a group opponents never look forward to playing.
Such is the intrigue of this series: two of the WNBA’s best teams, each with different offensive philosophies, facing off in a best-of-five format for the right to advance to the WNBA Finals. It all begins Tuesday night.
No. 4 Las Vegas Aces vs. No. 1 Washington Mystics
When: Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington, D.C.
How to watch: ESPN2, TSN4/5
Keys to the matchup: Toliver’s status will be of the utmost importance. Her ability to create shots makes the Mystics’ offense nearly unstoppable, and if she’s good to go, the Aces might need to win in a shootout. It’s a given that Cambage and Wilson will be the center of attention, but the Aces will need more — preferably from a guard like Jackie Young or Kayla McBride — if they’re going to match Washington’s offensive output. Winning the battle at the free throw line would be a good start: The Aces led the WNBA in free throw rate this season. Forcing the issue and creating an advantage at the charity stripe would test the Mystics’ depth and give the Aces a chance to generate the easy points they’ll need.