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2021 WNBA Playoffs semifinal Game 1 takeaways: Sky beat Sun in double-OT thriller; Aces rally past Mercury

Written by on September 29, 2021

The semifinals of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs got underway on Tuesday night with a pair of thrilling Game 1s. In the first game of the night, the Chicago Sky emerged with a 101-95 win over the Connecticut Sun in double overtime to take a 1-0 lead in their series. Later on, the Las Vegas Aces bounced back from an early deficit to beat a very competitive Phoenix Mercury team 96-90 to go up 1-0 in their matchup. 

Courtney Vandersloot led the way for the Sky with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists to record the second triple-double in playoff history and set a new playoff assists record. Candace Parker, meanwhile, added 22 points, five rebounds and six assists in a typical all-around performance. 

Jonquel Jones, who received her MVP trophy earlier in the day, finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, but it wasn’t enough for the Sun, who struggled to get much going on offense besides making trips to the free throw line. The Sun closed the season on a 14-game winning streak, and this was the first loss for them since July 3. 

Out in Vegas, the Aces were powered by brilliant performances from their backcourt trio of Riquna Williams (26), Kelsey Plum (25) and Chelsea Gray (17), who combined for 68 points on the night. A’ja Wilson added 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists, including a number of key baskets down the stretch.

As for the Mercury, it was the Brittney Griner show as per usual. She finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists in another impressive showing this postseason. Unfortunately for them, they just couldn’t find a way to get enough stops and will now have to play from behind in the series. 

Here are some key takeaways from the night:

Sky and Sun produce instant classic

The first two rounds of the playoffs provided two terrific down-to-the-wire games, and it appears we’re just going to keep that trend going. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and declare games or performances to be better than they actually were because they’re so fresh in your mind. But this isn’t one of those times. It’s no overreaction to call this game an instant classic. 

Save for a buzzer beater it had everything you can ask for in a playoff game. Stars such as Vandersloot, Jones and Parker delivered strong performances; there were 14 lead changes and 15 ties as the two teams went back and forth; the outcome was in doubt all the way until the final few seconds of the second overtime. 

Speaking of which, this was just the fifth time in playoff history that a game has gone to double-overtime. No one is going to forget this one anytime soon — except perhaps the Sun fans who want to erase it from memory. 

Vandersloot makes history

Courtney Vandersloot has led the WNBA in assists for the past five seasons and set a number of records along the way. Now, she has a few more to add to her ever-growing list. Vandersloot put on an absolute clinic on Tuesday night, finishing with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists to record just the second triple-double in playoff history and set the playoff assists record.

Whenever the Sky really needed a bucket, Vandersloot made it happen. Down the stretch of the second overtime, in particular, Vandersloot came up big with a couple of clutch feeds. With both teams exhausted, neither could get anything going on offense, and the score was tied 93-93 with a shade over two minutes remaining. 

That’s when Vandersloot dropped a beautiful lob over the top of the defense to Parker to put the Sky in front. Next time down, she ran the pick-and-roll to perfection, freeing Stefanie Dolson for an easy layup. All of a sudden the Sky were up 97-93 and never trailed again. 

Aces guards provide new dynamic

The Aces have been a contender for a while now, reaching the semifinals in 2019 and the Finals in 2020. Against the very best teams, however, they’ve come up short, in large part because of their offensive style. They are one of the few teams that have not embraced the 3-point shot, and for the past few seasons didn’t have much in the way of off-the-dribble creation. That’s a problem in the playoffs when the game slows down and becomes more physical. 

It doesn’t look like that’s going to be an issue this time around. At least not if Game 1 is any indication. Kelsey Plum is back after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, and the Aces added veteran guards Chelsey Gray and Riquna Williams in free agency. On Tuesday night, that trio combined for 68 of the Aces’ 96 points. 

With those three leading the way, the Aces hit nine 3-pointers, which may not sound like too many but is the second-most they’ve made in a playoff game since this run started in 2019. But it wasn’t even the 3s so much as it was the threat they provided to create their own shots and make plays off the dribble. 

All three of them probably won’t be this hot in every game, but they will add a much-needed extra dynamic to the Aces offense. There’s still a long way to go, but that could make all the difference as the Aces chase their first title in franchise history. 

Wilson’s late run puts the game away

A’ja Wilson didn’t play poorly in Game 1, but for most of the night she was pretty quiet as the Aces guards ran the show. Heading into the fourth quarter she was still in single digits scoring-wise and was far from being the dominant force we know she can be. 

But when the game is in the balance, big time players make big time plays. That’s exactly what Wilson did down the stretch in the fourth quarter, as she helped put the game away. Up by double-digits at one point in the frame, the Aces lead was down to just four points after a Brittney Griner bucket with a little over four minutes to play. 

Wilson made sure the Mercury never got any closer. On three straight possessions she hit a mid-range jumper, got loose in transition for a layup and crashed the glass for a putback. All told she went on a personal 6-0 run to push the Aces lead back to 10 with three minutes left. The Mercury hung around, but they never seriously threatened again. 


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