Aces, Liberty, Sun, Wings – Previewing 2023 WNBA Semifinals

Photo Credit: Akiem Bailum

When a team is a top 4 seed in the playoffs, one would expect said top four seed to advance to the semifinals. 

The Las Vegas Aces, New York Liberty, Connecticut Sun and Dallas Wings were, respectively from 1-4, the top 4 seeds entering this season’s postseason. With the semifinals set to get underway this Sunday, our playoffs have gone more chalk than a LeBron James pregame intro. 

No. 1 overall seed Aces will face the Wings in the semifinals whereas the No. 2 overall seed Liberty will take on the Sun. 

Here is our assessment of where things stand with all four semifinal combatants. 

The Aces, as expected, made short work of the Chicago Sky in the first round of their playoff series. 

It was a fair question given the late-season struggles the Aces encountered as to if they would be the same dominant Las Vegas team going into the playoffs. 

Becky Hammon’s Aces resembled the Aces we saw throughout much of the first half prior to the Commissioner’s Cup. The two get-togethers Vegas had with the Sky were not just victories – they were routs. 

A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and co. looked like the defending champions they indeed are in that series with Chicago – ironically a matchup of the last two WNBA champions. Of course, both franchises have taken stark turns in direction since. 

If this is the Aces team we can expect to see, we may have to pump our brakes on our call of Liberty defeating Las Vegas in five in the Finals. 

A statement was made by Vegas in the first round – the road to a WNBA championship still goes through Sin City and you better hope Lady Luck is on your side.

When we were in the mix at WNBA All-Star earlier this year in Las Vegas, we asked Arike Ogunbowale if the Wings had bragging rights over much of the W given they dealt to Las Vegas one of the two losses they had at the time. 

Paraphrasing Ogunbowale, she simply said that Dallas may have picked up the win – on Dallas’ home court – but the Aces have the thing that really matters – rings. 

Defeating the Aces was no small task – it served to be a spark plug that propelled the Wings to the point where they were able to host a first-round playoff series. 

Dallas had one bad quarter in their first-round series with the Atlanta Dream. It was the first quarter of the entire series. Since then, that matchup was all Wings, all the time against an Atlanta team emerging from a rebuild. 

Dallas also got a boost from recent news that Satou Sabally was named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player for 2023. Sabally has certainly earned her flowers for what was a superb season. In addition to Ogunbowale and Sabally, Teaira McCowan, Awak Kuier, Natasha Howard, Kalani Brown and Crystal Dangerfield all put together double-digit point efforts in Game 2 vs. the Dream. 

That victory the Wings scored against the Aces stands out – but Las Vegas still won the season series 3-1 and Dallas’ win was only a two-point win. Aces in 4. 

The Liberty joined the Aces and Wings as the three teams in the first round to earn sweeps over their opponents. But unlike the Aces and Wings, New York’s sweep was not as dominant. 

A big reason for that was the team that awaited Sandy Brondello’s Lib in the first round. The Washington Mystics have given the Liberty a host of problems throughout the season – including bookending the season with victories over the seafoam, black and copper. 

The Mystics played the Liberty tough again in the first game before a late run by New York (and Sabrina Ionescu looking like a postseason veteran) proved to be the difference to put the Liberty up 1-0. 

Washington’s Natasha Cloud put DC, Maryland and Virginia on her back in Game 2 in front of a raucous Barclays Center crowd. The 33 points were nearly enough to send Liberty vs. Mystics back to the District for a Game 3 and it was all square at 76 after regulation. 

New York was determined to send its fans home happy and that they did by eking out a 90-85 victory to dispatch of the Mystics. Breanna Stewart looked like the two-time champion she is. Jonquel Jones looked like a star who has played in two Finals. Betnijah Laney looked like Betnijah Laney and Courtney Vandersloot looked like Courtney Vandersloot. 

On paper, Stephanie White’s Sun team is certainly better than Cheryl Reeve’s Minnesota Lynx team. After all, Connecticut was 3-1 in the regular season series with the Lynx. 

But the postseason is an entirely different creature. Following the Lynx’s Game 2 victory over the Sun, that had to give plenty of Lynx fans back in the Land of 10,000 Lakes a glimmer of hope that Minnesota could pull off the upset. 

Connecticut wasted no time squashing the hopes of those Lynx aficionados. There is a bit of irony in the fact that the Sun dispatched the Lynx by a final score of 90-75 given it was the exact same tally that the Liberty won in its Game 1 vs. the Mystics.

Alyssa Thomas resembled the MVP candidate she is. DeWanna Bonner resembled a postseason veteran and one of the W’s more underrated premier players. Also – could Ty Harris be emerging as a secret weapon to fill the void left by the injured Brionna Jones? Despite valiant efforts by Napheesa Collier, Bridget Carleton and Kayla McBride, it was not to be this season for the Lynx. It is safe to say that all of our predictions of Minnesota’s demise (including by us) were greatly exaggerated. 

What is not an exaggeration is the obvious storylines going into this semifinal tilt between the Liberty and Sun. Jonquel Jones looking to get back to the WNBA Finals at the expense of her old team. New York and Connecticut being a natural geographic rivalry given it is Gotham’s team vs. New England’s team. Travel being so little of an issue the respective press corps for the Sun and Liberty could get to the other’s arena via car. 

What also is not an exaggeration is the Liberty being the only team the Sun have yet to earn a victory against this season. That will change this semifinals – but not enough for Connecticut to advance. 

Liberty in 5.