WNBA restart takeaways: Sky, Aces win thrillers; Jonquel Jones continues MVP pace; Lynx win 8th straight

Written by on August 16, 2021

The 2021 WNBA season had to go on pause when the Tokyo Olympics rolled around, but now that Team USA has won a seventh straight gold medal it’s time to start things back up again. On Sunday, the regular season resumed with an action-packed, six-game slate that featured every team in the league. 

There were late-game heroics from Chelsea Gray and Allie Quigley, dominant performances from some of the best bigs in the league and important results for the playoff race. With the first day of the restart now in the books, here are some key takeaways: 

Aces move into first place after 21-point comeback

After a long layoff, rust was definitely a real worry for teams as the regular season got back underway. The Aces definitely seemed affected by it, as they quickly got down by double digits to the Mystics on Sunday and trailed for almost the entire game. 

Through the first three quarters, they shot 22 of 50 and turned the ball over 10 times. They woke up and shook things off in the fourth quarter, however, and worked their way back. They took care of the ball — just one turnover in the fourth — created good looks for A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage and gave themselves a chance to win. That’s when Chelsea Gray stepped up and delivered a last-second jumper to complete a 21-point comeback

Thanks to Gray’s shot, the Aces ended the day in first place instead of third, which is where they would have been with a loss. The race for the top-two seeds, and a bye all the way to the semifinals, looks like it might come down to the wire, and this could end up being a massive victory for the Aces. 

Quigley comes up clutch for Sky

Allie Quigley was moved to the bench this season, but while she doesn’t start games anymore she’s always out there when it matters most. That was the case again on Sunday afternoon, as she keyed a late fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime in the Sky’s win over the Storm. 

With the Sky trailing by six and just over a minute remaining in regulation, Quigley knocked down back-to-back triples to tie things up. She also provided a crucial assist in the extra frame as the Sky beat the Storm for one of the biggest wins of their campaign. 

It’s been a strange season for the Sky, as Candace Parker’s arrival led to big expectations. But when she went down with an ankle injury after just one game, the team collapsed and lost seven in a row. Since her return, they’ve been trying to dig themselves out of that early hole, and are still right in the mix for a top-four seed. Even a top-two seed isn’t out of the question if they can take advantage of their numerous remaining matchups with the Storm and Aces. 

Jones continues MVP push

Jonquel Jones sat out the 2020 season, but she’s back and better than ever. At the Olympic break she was the clear MVP favorite because of her abilities on both sides of the ball and the way she has almost single-handedly turned the Sun into one of the best teams in the league. 

Judging by how she played against the Dallas Wings in the first game back, she’s intent on maintaining her lead in the MVP race. She was stellar once again, putting up 19 points, 14 rebounds and four assists as the Sun cruised to a 21-point win and improved to 15-6 on the season — a mark that has them just half a game out of first place despite playing all season without Alyssa Thomas. 

At 20.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on 53.9/41.9/81.4 shooting splits, Jones is currently second in scoring and first in rebounding, and is also the only player averaging a double-double. She’s also getting 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, which makes her one of five players to average a steal and a block. There are a lot of great players in the league, but no one is operating on Jones’ level this season. 

Gold medal Griner dominates fourth quarter

Earlier this month, Brittney Griner helped Team USA win a seventh straight Olympic gold medal by going off for 30 points against Japan to set a new record for the most points ever scored in a women’s gold medal game. On Sunday, she picked up right where she left off by putting up 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks in the Phoenix Mercury’s win over the Atlanta Dream.

Most impressive, though, was that Griner again showed up when it really mattered. She was dominant in the fourth quarter, when she had six points, two rebounds, four assists and two blocks alone to help the Mercury fend off the Dream’s pesky comeback attempts. In the fourth, Griner either scored or assisted on seven of the Mercury’s 13 field goals. 

This is the type of dominant force that Griner can be at both ends of the floor. Down the stretch it will just be a matter of consistency as the Mercury look for a ninth straight playoff appearance. 

Lynx win eighth in a row

The Minnesota Lynx weren’t one of the main title contenders heading into the season, but they were solidly in the second tier after their semifinal finish in the bubble and a number of high-profile free-agent signings this offseason. Then they started out 0-4, with three of those losses coming by double digits. 

It certainly didn’t look good at that point, but they had time on their side and the talent to figure things out. That’s just what they’ve done, losing just three times since that slow start. Heading into the Olympic break they ripped off seven straight wins, and on Sunday they made it eight in a row with a comfortable win over the Liberty. 

Sylvia Fowles, who put up 20 points and 11 rebounds in another stellar performance, is playing her best basketball in years, while Kayla McBride has settled into her new role and Napheesa Collier is doing a little bit of everything. The Lynx are 13-3 since their 0-4 start, which is the best record in the league in that span, and are only two games out of first place. They still might not be a top-tier title contender, but they’re knocking on the door. No one is going to want to play them in the postseason. 


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