Playoff rush: Every game matters down the stretch

This series will cover the WNBA’s 21st season with at least one story on the league weekly from the season’s May 13 opening to its closing on September 3 and through the 2017 playoffs.   

Whether she intended it or not, 2016 WNBA Most Valuable Player Nneka Ogwumike introduced a subtitle for this season’s “Watch Me Work” promotional campaign. “Every game matters,” Ogwumike told reporters, including the MSR during last week’s media conference call.

Minnesota, Los Angeles, Connecticut, New York and Washington at press time all have clinched playoff slots. With San Antonio and Indiana officially eliminated from playoff contention, five clubs are still alive and fighting for the remaining three slots.

The top eight teams qualify for the post-season regardless of conference, which begins next month. This, in essence, makes the final two weeks of the regular season playoff-like.

“I would think so,” Ogwumike, the Los Angeles forward, told the MSR when asked if the final two weeks have a playoff feel. Her Sparks teammate, guard Chelsea Gray, added, “We are going to get everybody’s best game” down the stretch. “We are trying to be in the top two spots.  I’m excited for the playoffs.”

Pokey Chatman (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

“We want to be in a good spot,” stated Washington center Krystal Thomas. Playing pressure-packed games this late into the season “is the fun part,” she noted.

“It gives you great preparation” for the post-season, said her Mystics teammate, guard Kristi Toliver. “Every game is a playoff game.”

Minnesota and Los Angeles at present are in those two top spots, which, if nothing changes at season’s end, will earn the respective clubs double-byes into the semifinals (third round) in the playoff format, now in its second year.

The third and fourth seeds, currently Connecticut and New York, respectfully, will get a bye into the second round. The first and second rounds are single elimination.

And if preseason predictions hold as well, the two clubs will meet in the finals for the second consecutive year.

“I enjoy playing the best against the best,” noted Ogwumike — Minnesota and Los Angeles play each other Sunday in Los Angeles (6 pm on ESPN2).

History overlooked or gender snub?

Nearly a dozen team and league records either were set or broken in last Friday’s Minnesota-Indiana contest, won by the host Lynx.

If it occurred in their big brother league, the 37-0 Lynx run (about 13 minutes) —

that began with Minnesota’s Jia Perkins’ 18-foot pull-up jumper at the 4:11 mark of the first quarter, and ended with Indiana’s Natalie Achonwa’s 17-foot turnaround with 3:45 left in the second quarter — would still be talked about on the four-letter sports network and male-dominated sports radio.

That run, however, was the most consecutive points in any game in WNBA history — perhaps in pro basketball, period.

Other records that night in St. Paul included: largest victory margin (59) in league history, and largest halftime lead (45 points) in league history. Minnesota’s 68 first-half points was one point short of a W record set by Phoenix in 2010.

Franchise records included: Most field goals made in any half (27), and tied for most points (37) in any quarter — twice set before in 2007 and 2008.

Indiana set dubious records in the loss: most points allowed in any half; largest deficit in any half, and most points allowed in a quarter and largest deficit (50) at any time of the game.

 

Yes, she said it…

“They were able to do anything they wanted after about 90 seconds of play,” stated Indiana Coach Pokey Chatman after her team’s 59-point defeat at Minnesota last week.

“It’s coming down to the end,” observed Los Angeles’ Chelsea Gray on the 2017 season winding down.

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

About Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at challman@spokesman-recorder.com

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