WNBA Semifinal Observations After Road Teams Win Game 1

by Vegas Writer

The top four seeds are in the WNBA Final Four, and we're underway with the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces facing the fourth-seeded Seattle Storm, and the second-seeded and defending champion Chicago Sky taking on third-seeded Connecticut Sun.

As we saw in both Game 1s, nobody is invincible at this point, as both road teams opened their series with wins.

Here's a breakdown after the first game, looking at what needs to be done.

No. 4 SEATTLE at No. 1 LAS VEGAS

Seattle

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Breanna Stewart is phenomenal. It's no wonder the Associated Press made her the MVP this season, over Wilson. Her fundamentals are outstanding, and the mid-season addition of Tina Charles has helped form what might be the most formidable frontcourt left in the playoffs. Wilson is arguably the best defender in the league, but she cannot defend both Stewart and Charles. All due respect to Las Vegas' Kiah Stokes, she can't handle either Charles or Stewart for a full game.

NEEDS SOME WORK: The Storm may have won on Sunday, but they did so despite their offense. The Aces held Seattle to 76 points. After Seattle opened a 26-15 lead in the first quarter, it scored just 17, 17, and 16 over the next three quarters. If it wasn't for Jewell Loyd's heroics, the Aces come back to win that game. Stewart was dominating in the first half but finished 9 of 17. Charles was just 6 of 18. Sue Bird was 1 for 6.

X-FACTOR: The Storm might have the best bench left in the playoffs. Though it only provided four points on Sunday, what won't show up on the scoreboard is the defensive efforts from Briann January, Ezi Magbegor, or Epiphanny Prince. Seattle has to put its bench to work if it wants to steal Game 2.

ATS FACTS: The Storm have now covered five of their last six on the road and seven of their last 10 overall. Flipside, when they play on two days rest they've failed to cover seven of their last 10. Long term, Seattle is mired in an 8-22 ATS slide against Western Conference foes. Despite a low-scoring Game 1, the Storm remain on a 7-1 over run, and have gone high in nine of their last 12 road games.

Las Vegas

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Some would think otherwise, specifically when you have A'ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum in the lineup, but Chelsea Gray is the key component for this team. Gray is a seasoned veteran who knows how to run a championship offense. She won a title in Los Angeles, and there have been several times we've seen her close games for the Aces, with big fourth quarters whether it's scoring or dishing dimes.

NEEDS SOME WORK: The first quarter doldrums. Though the Aces went 21-14-1 in the first quarter during the regular season, it's their tenacity or lack thereof, that has hindered them at times. Sunday's series opener saw the Storm smack the Aces around, both offensively and defensively. And when you're playing a championship-caliber team like the Storm, you cannot make mistakes early on and open the door.

X-FACTOR: Wilson needs more touches, and coach Becky Hammon has to make adjustments when Seattle's switches leave mismatches in certain spots. At many times, Wilson was left without a lane to the paint or was defended well enough to limit her attempts. The MVP candidate took 0 shots in the first quarter and finished 3 of 10 from the field. This falls on Hammon to correct.

ATS FACTS: The Aces will roll into Wednesday's second game riding a 6-1 ATS streak on two days rest, and a 4-1 ATS streak off an ATS loss. Problem for them is they've failed to cover 11 of their last 15 in Vegas. The Aces may boast the highest scoring offense in the league, but they've stayed under in 11 of their last 16.

No. 3 CONNECTICUT at No. 2 CHICAGO

Connecticut

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Everybody raves about the starting lineup in Vegas, as they should. But let's not forget what the Sun bring to the floor for the opening tip. I mean, DeWanna Bonner, Alyssa Thomas, Courtney Williams, Jonquel Jones, Natisha Hiedeman ... right now, that's the best starting five in the playoffs. The attitude and chemistry that flow through this lineup are exactly what coach Curt Miller wants when making a run to the championship game.

NEEDS SOME WORK: Miller mentioned postgame how much the Sun struggled to get Jones the ball due to how the Sky played her. Much like I said about the Hammon finding a way to get Wilson more touches and more shot attempts, the Sun would benefit greatly in Game 2, knowing Chicago will make adjustments if they find ways to free Jones for better shot attempts.

X-FACTOR: Williams is a straight Dawg. One of the biggest moments in the game came with 5:13 to go when she and Chicago's Kahleah Copper received double technical fouls for refusing to let go of a called jump ball. It clearly set the tone for the rest of the game, as Williams wasn't about to be intimidated in Chicago. That 11-second tug-of-war was the key that reminded Connecticut to ride it out with a Dawg Mentality. Williams might be one of the littlest players on the Sun, but she's nasty when she's in game mode and will take you out of your game both mentally and physically.

ATS FACTS: With Sunday's outright win, the Sun head into Game 2 on an 8-0 ATS run, and a 14-3 spread streak overall. It marked just their second cover in seven games against teams with a better than .500 record. Connecticut's games have run high in five of its last seven.

Chicago

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Offensive efficiency is the Sky's specialty, but it seemed to be non-existent on Sunday. We saw Connecticut outscore Chicago 20-12 in the third quarter, and that might have been acceptable in the first quarter. But by the third, the most efficient offense in the league has to be better. The Sky simply couldn't find the consistency they've enjoyed all season, and they need to get back to their strengths with Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, and Candace Parker leading the charge.

NEEDS SOME WORK: If there is one thing Chicago was able to boast this season, it was balanced with the right effort on both ends of the floor. But the Sky's defense was also inconsistent, and that is troublesome when you consider they went 4-0 against the Sun during the regular season. Connecticut was able to build an eight-point first-quarter lead by scoring 11 points off six Chicago turnovers, which couples with the Sky's offensive inconsistencies. If anything coach James Wade wants his team running the floor, and moving fast-paced, rather than getting into a tussle.

X-FACTOR: Vandersloot didn't have her first assist until late in the fourth quarter and finished with only two. She had several good set-up passes her teammates couldn't knock down, but she was also defended well with limited space to operate. If Chicago wants to find its efficiency, it starts with Vandersloot.

ATS FACTS: The Sky have answered losses quite well, having covered four of their last five after a SU loss. But, they've also failed to cover four of their last five at home. Chicago has eclipsed the number in 12 of its last 17 at home.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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