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
“We got a different game plan. We’re throwing everything at Connecticut on Sunday. Only thing I can say is Dallas be ready.”
Vickie Johnson’s words to FOX 4 turned out to be prophetic. A new starting lineup and different rotation created a much better outcome Sunday, with Dallas leading by 16 at halftime and 29 after the third quarter three days after getting blown off the court in Game 1.
Out went Teaira McCowan from the starting five, in came Isabelle Harrison. That allowed Dallas to spread the floor early, freeing up Allisha Gray and Kayla Thornton to score at every level. And when McCowan came in, she found the space to operate in the paint that was so glaringly absent Thursday because Connecticut could no longer focus only on her. The Wings’ ball movement was much better overall, too; they had more assists and threes at halftime than they did in all of Game 1.
It wasn’t just the offense, though. Dallas’ defensive energy was much improved. The Wings swarmed the Sun, forcing them into midrange shots and keeping them off the offensive boards. The byproduct was more chances in transition, which enabled their guards to get work done. Sure, Jonquel Jones got hers. Nobody else hurt the Wings, though, a credit to how Dallas smothered the opposition.
The cherry on top is Dallas did it with basically six players. All five starters plus Teaira McCowan played over 15 minutes. While Satou Sabally, Ty Harris, and others helped out, they lagged behind in minutes. Johnson shortened her bench, trusted her core players to do the job, and they rewarded her.
Well, aside from the fourth quarter. The final period was a nightmare: a 32-13 advantage for the Sun, who at one point went on a 22-2 run that forced Johnson to reinsert several starters to seal the game. It wasn’t enough to seriously threaten the win, but it did take some starch off Dallas’ dominance, which perhaps blunts whatever the psychological advantage they take into Wednesday night’s winner-take-all Game 3 in Arlington.
What comes next feels impossible to predict. Each team has bodied the other in this series, and the Sun lost by double digits in their only College Park Center visit of 2022. Dallas can take heart that despite their 8-10 record in Arlington in 2022, home teams have a 60.1 winning percentage since 1997. Fresh off tying the longest postseason losing streak in WNBA history, recent and distant history alike indicate that Dallas’ chances of playoff advancement are higher now than they’ve been in a long time. —Sam Hale
What It Felt Like
A firm rejection of momentum and history.
Thursday’s 25-point loss meant the Wings rolled into Sunday tied for the longest playoff losing streak in WNBA history. There was every reason to presume they’d return to Dallas with the milestone all to themselves, too. The team’s respective records suggested Dallas would lose Sunday. Their rosters did, too, even before Arike Ogunbowale’s hip injury ruled her out of the series. Add in that Game 1 beatdown plus a potentially decisive Game 2 taking place on the road instead of back home at UTA, and there wasn’t much to support the notion of Dallas making this a genuine series.
And there was even less to suspect they would shrug off so much futility so casually—that the team which hadn’t won a playoff elimination game since 2008 would blitz the Sun off their home court, out of the casino it’s built in, and into the balmy Connecticut afternoon wondering what the hell happened.
You, like me, can wonder aloud whether the Wings will rue their sleepy fourth quarter if Connecticut walks into the College Park Center emboldened, not demoralized. But it doesn’t diminish the impact of Dallas flinging a 14-year-old monkey off its back. No team wins big until it first understands how to win small, and winning this smallest of postseason steps amounts to the Wings creeping ever so slightly toward who they want to be.
Dallas remains alive in these playoffs—perhaps for three more nights, perhaps many more. Whether or not the Wings win Wednesday night, they have slammed the door on the organization’s darkest days once and for all. That’s not the victory they’re after in this series, but it’s an important one nevertheless, particularly after a six-year stretch when triumphs of any size were seldom seen. The hope and promise it inspires were rarer, still.
A young team is maturing. Game 3 won’t change that, even if it winds up another growing pain. —Mike Piellucci