The WNBA playoffs are down to the final four teams with Phoenix, Minnesota, Indiana and Chicago still standing.
Here’s a look at a few story lines for the conference finals.
WOMEN’S WORLD: For the first time in the 18-year history of the WNBA all four teams in the conference finals are coached by women. That guarantees that for the fourth straight year a female coach will guide her team to the title. Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve won in 2011 and 2013. Indiana’s Lin Dunn was the champion in 2012.
“I think it’s great,” said first-year Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello, who was the league’s coach of the year this season. “There’s a lot of talented female coaches out there, so it’s good to see that.”
Even with the success of female coaches lately in the league, Brondello thinks teams should look at a candidate’s abilities when hiring more than gender.
“I don’t think it’s about sex, in terms of who gets jobs,” she said. “It’s about, are they good enough? And obviously there’s a lot of great female coaches, as well as male coaches in the league. It’s good to see organizations hire women. But they still have to hire who they think is best for the job, and that’s what it comes down to. If it’s a woman, I think it’s great. This is the best league in the world, and it’s obviously female.”
STAR POWER: Three of the top five vote-getters in the MVP race this season are still playing, led by award winner Maya Moore.
Moore and the Lynx will have to figure out a way to slow down Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner — who finished second and fifth in the balloting, respectively — and the rest of the Phoenix Mercury.
“It’s just great players all across the board, great matchups all across the board, and at some point it’s just pride,” said Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus. “Pride is on the line, and you have to be the one that’s basically deflating and dominating the other player in that aspect.”
The East has its own stars in Tamika Catchings and Elena Delle Donne. Both would have factored in the MVP voting had they not missed significant time due to injury this season.
Delle Donne carried Chicago to its first playoff series win by scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter to rally the Sky from a 16-point deficit against Atlanta.
MUST SEE TV: Nearly everyone expected Phoenix and Minnesota to meet for the Western Conference title after the two teams ran away from the rest of the field this season. The Lynx are the defending champions and eliminated the Mercury from the playoffs last season. Minnesota also snapped Phoenix’s 16-game winning streak this season that was the second-longest in WNBA history.
The Mercury returned the favor, ending an 11-game run by the Lynx, and earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by finishing with the best record in the league.
If that’s not enough of a reason to watch, last season’s matchup between the teams provided one of the biggest buzz moments in league history when Diana Taurasi planted a peck on the cheek of Seimone Augustus after the players were called for double personal fouls.
That video garnered over 2.5 million views in the first 36 hours it went viral.
At the time, Augustus said that she and Taurasi joked about it afterward.
“We talked about it and laughed it off,” Augustus said. “If you think about it, it could have escalated into an all-out brawl. We have a great friendship and it turned a very stressful situation into a show of sportsmanship.”
PUTTING OFF RETIREMENT: Indiana coach Lin Dunn hopes to postpone her retirement for a couple more weeks. The veteran coach announced before the season that this would be her final year on the bench.
She refuses to look back, focusing on the upcoming series with Chicago, a team the Fever knocked out of the playoffs last season and beat three times this season.
“It is the last thing I’m worrying about,” Dunn said. “The only time I think about it is when somebody brings it up. I’m just focused on the team and preparing for the next game.”
Freelance writer Al Bravo in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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