The 2020 WNBA season has been the most unique in league history, but for all the changes that have happened over the past few months, the playoff format is being played as usual. We've reached the semifinals now, which begin on Sunday with a pair of Game 1s. In the second game of the doubleheader, the Seattle Storm will meet the Minnesota Lynx.
Last season didn't go as planned for the Storm for a number of reasons, but with Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird back in action, they're looking to win their second title in three years. They finished the regular season 18-4, but have the No. 2 seed due to losing the tiebreaker with the Las Vegas Aces. With no home-court advantage in the bubble, though, that isn't as important, and the Storm are still one of the favorites to win it all.
The Minnesota Lynx will hope to have something to say about that, though. They exceeded expectations this season, finishing in fourth place despite Maya Moore sitting out again, Seimone Augustus leaving for Los Angeles and Sylvia Fowles missing most of the season with a calf injury. They took down the Phoenix Mercury in the second round to reach this point, and will be looking to spring a major upset on the Storm.
(2) Storm vs. (4) Lynx
All times Eastern
Game 1: Sunday, Sept. 20, 3 p.m. | ABC
Game 2: Tuesday, Sept. 22, 7 p.m. | ESPN 2
Game 3: Thursday, Sept. 24, 9:30 p.m. | ESPN 2
Game 4: Saturday, Sept. 26, TBD | TBD*
Game 5: Monday, Sept. 28, TBD | TBD*
Health is a major key
Health is always a key factor in the playoffs, as an injury at the wrong time can make or break a series. It's an especially important topic for these two teams with both have key players dealing with injuries.
Legendary Storm point guard Sue Bird missed the last two games of the regular season with a knee injury, and only played in 11 games all season long, and former MVP Breanna Stewart also missed the final two games because of a foot problem. The good news for the Storm is neither is listed on the injury report heading into the series. That means Seattle will have its preferred starting lineup ready to go. During the regular season, that group outscored teams by 23.4 points per 100 possessions.
As for the Lynx, it's still not entirely clear what they're going to get from Sylvia Fowles in this series. The former MVP was limited to seven games this season due to a calf injury, and while she returned to play in their second-round matchup with the Phoenix Mercury, she wasn't particularly impactful, and is questionable to play in Game 1. It goes without saying that the Lynx will have a much tougher time pulling off this upset if they don't have Fowles in the lineup and playing at a high level.
Can the Lynx score against the league's top defense?
No Maya Moore, no Seimone Augustus, no Sylvia Fowles for much of the season, and yet the Lynx finished third in the league with an offensive rating of 106.7. Napheesa Collier continued to come into her own as a star in this league, Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield stepped up in a major way and they shot 38.5 percent from 3-point land.
While it was an impressive showing from the Lynx, it's also worth pointing out that they often beat up on bad teams. They were 7-1 against lottery-bound teams, and 7-7 against playoff squads. Of their 10 worst offensive performances all season, only one was against a non-playoff team. Furthermore, two of those games were against the Storm, including their worst of the season.
Seattle was the league's best defense all season long, and boasts a lanky, athletic frontcourt, with a pesky, determined backcourt in front of it. They also held teams to a league-best 30.6 percent from downtown. In short, they're set up to take away what the Lynx do well. It's little surprise that the Lynx only had five double-digit losses all season, and two were against the Storm.
As good as the numbers say the Lynx's offense was this season, figuring out how to score consistently against a dominant defense like Seattle's in the postseason is a major challenge. It's unclear what they're going to get from Fowles in this series. Collier, though a great player, isn't the type to go out and get you 20-plus a night on a consistent basis and Dangerfield is a rookie. Where they turn when they really need a basket in this series is going to be interesting to watch.
Stewart looking to get back to the mountaintop
Two years ago, Breanna Stewart was on top of the basketball world. She'd just completed the trifecta of MVP, Finals MVP and WNBA champion, and had established herself as the best player in the world. Then she tore her Achilles tendon. Since then, she's been working to get back to the heights of 2018.
After missing all of last season, Stewart returned this summer, and pretty much picked up where she left off. Her stats are eerily similar to two years ago, as she put up 19.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, en route to a runner-up MVP finish.
While she didn't recapture the MVP trophy, Stewart is in great position to win another title. The Storm are just six wins away, and begin their playoff journey in the semis against a Lynx team they beat by double digits twice in the regular season. If Stewart can lead the Storm to a title in her first season back, it would cap off one of the greatest comeback seasons of all time.
It's worth noting, however, that Stewart didn't exactly finish the season on a high note. Her efficiency slipped in a major way down the stretch, with her true shooting percentage dropping nearly 10 percentage points from her first 10 games to her last 10 of the season. She also didn't suit up for the Storm's final two games due to a foot injury.
She's had nearly two weeks to rest up, and is completely cleared to play, so that's a great sign for the Storm, and even a sub-par version of Stewart is better than most players in the league. But if Seattle wants to win the title, it will need Stewart at her best, and this series will provide a good gauge of where Stewart is at right now.