The playoffs are complicated. Each series is its own story, and each game is its own chapter encompassing a dozen moments and plot points. But the playoffs can also be simple. Each of those moments, those plot points, falls into one of two buckets: the things we observe and the emotions they inspire within us. That’s what we’re here to talk about.
What We Saw
Game 1 continued a worrying trend for the Wings, who are now 0-10 when they allow 89 or more points this season. The defense just didn’t have answers for Connecticut’s bigs. Jonquel Jones went for 19, while Alyssa Thomas had 15 points along with 10 boards. Unsurprisingly, Dallas got mauled in the paint; the Sun’s shot chart is basically a giant green glob right under the basket. The paint defense was nonexistent, and Connecticut exploited that over and over, so much so that it hardly mattered that they only made five threes.
Meanwhile, the Wings’ offense never got out of the blocks. In a game where Dallas desperately needed production from Teaira McCowan, Big T managed only six total shots, her lowest total since a July 1 loss against the Sparks. She made just two of them, never establishing herself down low because the Sun largely kept her occupied at or near the three-point line. Connecticut had that luxury because none of her supporting cast delivered, either, apart from Allisha Gray’s 17 points on almost 64 percent shooting.
Playing without Arike Ogunbowale meant there were shots to be had and statements to be made. Both went unfulfilled. Marina Mabrey attempted only three triples, hitting one. Kayla Thornton managed a single point in almost 20 minutes. At the start of the fourth quarter, Dallas had a 3:1 turnover ratio. It only settled down to 2:1 by game’s end.
It’s one thing to get beat by a better team. It’s another to experience teamwide failure in a 25-point behind-kicking. That was Dallas’ lot in life Thursday. They looked out of place and overmatched.
Cliché as it sounds, whatever happens in Game 2 can’t be worse than Game 1. That’s the good news. The bad? The Wings have to get a lot better just about everywhere. If they don’t, some members of the 2022 Wings might not have a chance at redemption, because they won’t be around next year. —Sam Hale
What It Felt Like
Stop me if this rings familiar: a Wings team light on offensive creativity gets smothered on the road by a veteran unit whose time may have finally come. Such was Dallas’ fate last postseason against eventual champion Chicago. So it went once again on Thursday, all the way down to one of their players puking on the court.
It comes as no surprise that this felt the same, too. One by one, the Wings piled the old layers of futility back on—the powerlessness and the frustration, the confusion and the resignation—until the game clock mercifully ran out.
Just like last year, there were extenuating circumstances. In 2021, Dallas could point the finger at collective inexperience. This year, it’s the absence of Ogunbowale, their offensive lodestar. But Dallas is now mired in what’s tied for the longest postseason wins drought in WNBA history—eight games and counting. Playoff failure is now the great constant for an organization that has churned through players, coaches, management, even names and cities. It follows the Wings. Until something changes, it defines them.
Which made this feel like the worst sort of déjà vu, Groundhog Day playing out all over again. The Wings still looked shaky in the face of big runs. They still were as poor shooting the ball as their opponents were proficient. They still seemed in desperate need of a reliable playmaker at the point, a role Veronica Burton could perhaps fulfill someday but didn’t play nearly often enough in the regular season to be ready for 23 minutes in a playoff start. They still, ultimately, were overwhelmed.
A year ago, in the old single-elimination format, this would have been it. Forty brutal minutes would have been this team’s epitaph. It doesn’t have to be that way this time around, but that requires these Wings to vanquish their demons, along with the Sun’s massive front court. Until the postseason losing streak ends once and for all, the former will loom larger than the latter ever could. —Mike Piellucci