The WNBA playoffs returned to Texas for the first time in nearly eight years on Wednesday night, with a winner-take-all Game 3 between the Dallas Wings and the Connecticut Sun in Arlington at the College Park Center.
The No.3 seed Sun were victorious, easing past the short-handed No.6 seed Wings 73-58 in front of just over 5,000 fans to win the best-of-3 first-round series and advance to the semifinals.
Wings head coach Vickie Johnson was also on the sidelines the last time a WNBA playoff game took place in Texas: on August 23, 2014, as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Stars.
Similarly to Wednesday, Johnson and the Texas team walked off the floor in defeat as the Stars lost that game 94-89 and were eliminated from the postseason.
Entering the game, the status of Wings star Arike Ogunbowale was the main storyline. Ogunbowale had been out since having abdominal surgery on August 9 and was ruled out for the entire first round.
However, it was only a 15-day absence, as Ogunbowale was ruled active and available before the game. Ogunbowale started the game on the bench and did not enter until the third quarter.
The Sun did not make a basket for seven-plus minutes in the second quarter but still managed to go into halftime tied at 34 thanks to a long three-pointer from DeWanna Bonner with 1.3 seconds left before the break. Bonner finished with 21 points to lead the Sun.
A significant turning point occurred with 9:25 left in the second quarter when Dallas starting center Isabelle Harrison was helped to the locker room with a leg injury and did not return.
The Sun took advantage of Harrison’s absence in the paint, grabbing nine first-half offensive rebounds, which resulted in 11 second-chance points. Connecticut made just 12-of-37 shot attempts in the first half but the second-chance points were a primary reason why the game was tied at 34 at halftime.
While Dallas played an inspired first half, the team lost its way after the halftime break.
The Sun opened the third quarter on a 15-6 run to build a 49-40 lead and did not look back.
Ogunbowale entered the game for the first time at that point, igniting the hometown fans. However, she failed to register a point, missing three shots in the third quarter before being taken out and not seeing the court again.
The Wings only made four baskets in the third quarter and trailed 57-46 entering the fourth. The Sun started the fourth on an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 65-46, allowing them to coast the rest of the way.
Connecticut held Dallas to 24 second-half points and a season-low point total. The Wings made only 6-of-27 shot attempts in the second half and turned the ball over 11 times.
The Sun finished with 21 more shot attempts than the Wings and earned their first winner-take-all victory since September 29, 2004. They are advancing past the opening round of the WNBA playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.
The Sun will now face the defending champion Chicago Sky in a best-of-five series for a spot in the championship game.
Marina Mabrey led Dallas with 20 points, but she also turned it over a career-high eight times. Mabrey and Veronica Burton, who scored 10 points, were the only Wings players to score double figures.
“We gave it our all,” Mabrey said, “and we put our hearts in it.”
While being eliminated will sting, the Wings took a step forward this season. They finished 18-18 for their first non-losing season since 2015 when the franchise was the Tulsa Shock.
Furthermore, they won their first playoff game since 2009, when they were the Detroit Shock. With no one over 30 on the roster, this is an extremely young team, so Wings fans expect to see them compete for a championship in the foreseeable future.