Out of all the first round series in the 2022 WNBA Playoffs, the matchup between the Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics seemed the most likely to go three games. After all, both teams finished with the same record and plenty of star talent. Nevertheless, the Storm swept the series in two games after beating the Mystics 97-84 on Sunday. The win sets up a matchup against the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces in the semifinals.
Las Vegas won the season series 2-1 but each game was decided by 10 points or fewer. Even though Seattle finished fourth in the standings, they had the hardest test in the first round and will be ready to face the Aces. With the semifinals being the best-of-five, the head-to-head matchups will become even more important across the series. Here are three player matchups to keep an eye on:
A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart: Battle of the MVPs
You can’t ask for a more exciting matchup: the two MVP frontrunners going head-to-head. Breanna Stewart led the league in scoring at 21.8 points per game while A’ja Wilson was fifth at 19.5. Wilson holds the edge in rebounds, field goal percentage, and blocks while Stewart had higher three-point and free throw percentages. While the question of who deserves the MVP is up for debate, there is no question Stewart is having a better playoffs. In the first round, she recorded a double-double in both games, shot 67% from three, and did not miss a free throw.
Tina Charles and Kiah Stokes: Who will dominate inside?
With All-Star Dearica Hambry out with an injury, Kiah Stokes has stepped up into the starting center role for the Aces. Tina Charles arrived in Seattle halfway through the season after a contract divorce with Phoenix and has helped improve the team’s defense and interior scoring, averaging over seven rebounds per game and shooting 47.7 percent from the field.
She is a big reason Seattle had the third-best defense in the league. Stokes came off the bench for most of the season, but in the series against Phoenix, she averaged eight rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. While this matchup may not grab many headlines thanks to the stars on each team, winning the inside battle will be crucial for the team that comes out on top.
Jewell Lloyd and Kelsey Plum: Which sidekick will make the difference?
Kelsey Plum led the Las Vegas Aces in scoring while Jewell Lloyd was second behind Stewart in Seattle. Still, both will be equally important in this series. When these teams last met during the regular season finale, Lloyd set a career-high with 38 points.
With small forward Gabby Williams potentially out with a concussion, Lloyd will have to shoulder more of the scoring along with Stewart. There is no arguing that Plum is the better of the two, so the question is if Lloyd can step up.
The Aces were the best offensive team in the league, so if this series turns into a shootout, Seattle will need the extra production if they want to advance in the WNBA playoffs.