With the 2016 regular season finally drawing to a close, the WNBA’s first postseason under the new playoff format is set. While the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks clinched the top two seeds (and thus, a double-bye to the semifinals) a while ago, and the New York Liberty have been penciled in at No. 3, the final positions were not yet to be determined heading into this week.
A three-team battle between the Chicago Sky, Indiana Fever, and Atlanta Dream for the No. 4 seed ended with Chicago coming out on top; the Sky will join the Liberty as spectators during the first round as they wait to see who they will be playing next weekend. The bottom four seeds will square off in one-game playoff matches for the chance to move on: the Seattle Storm will play at Atlanta, while the Phoenix Mercury will play the Fever. The lowest seed to advance will face New York this weekend, while the highest seed to advance will play at Chicago. Both games will be played this Wednesday and aired on ESPNews.
The biggest story of the week, though, was Tamika Catchings’ final regular season home game. Indiana showed out for their retiring superstar with one of the biggest crowds in franchise history, and the Fever responded in kind by beating the Wings by 23 points. Afterwards, Catchings was honored in an extensive postgame ceremony featuring guest speakers from all across the sports world, as well as prominent Indiana political figures. Catchings herself made one thing very clear: the Fever will continue on without her, and their fans need to continue their support of the team throughout the playoffs and into 2017.
It’s fitting that Catchings — a player who is legendary for her relentless work ethic and hard-nosed play — retires as the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder. This week, she passed Lisa Leslie in total career rebounds, finishing with 3,316. Elsewhere on the career leaderboards, Catchings finishes second in total points, sixth in assists, second in made field goals, and a healthy first in both free throws and steals.
Catchings wasn’t the only longtime WNBA record holder to call it a career. Dan Hughes, head coach of the San Antonio Stars, coached his final game on Sunday, and was subsequently honored with a postgame ceremony of his own (along with Stars center Jayne Appel, who also recently announced her retirement). Hughes, the WNBA’s all-time leader in games coached, has been with the Stars since 2005, taking them to the WNBA Finals in 2008 and winning Coach of the Year in 2001 (with the now-defunct Cleveland Rockers) and 2007.
Elsewhere, the defending champion Lynx set a new high of their own. Their 2016 final record of 28-6 is a franchise-best, which is remarkable considering that they’ve been the class of the league since 2011. The fewest number of wins by a Lynx team in that period was 22 (last season), and it’s hard to believe that they’d top the back-to-back 27-win seasons they recorded in 2011 and 2012.
Last (but certainly not least), DeLisha Milton-Jones, the WNBA’s all-time leader in games played, announced on Monday that she’d be retiring. One of the pioneers of the WNBA, Milton-Jones announced her retirement in an open letter posted on the league website. She walks away with 499 career WNBA games played, with a pair of WNBA championships and Olympic gold medals with USA basketball. Milton-Jones will now be taking all of that experience into the coaching field, where she’ll be an assistant coach with Pepperdine women’s basketball this college season.
Speaking of records, Breanna Stewart set one of her own this week, and it wasn’t even limited to rookies. Stewart pulled down her 277th defensive rebound of the season on Sunday, which is the highest single-season mark in WNBA history. It’s just one more feather in Stewart’s cap en route to a Rookie of the Year award that should be unanimous.
Meanwhile, Sun rookie Jonquel Jones finalized her case to join Stewart on the 2016 All-Rookie team with a career-high 21 points against Washington. Jones shot 8-10 from the field and also grabbed 7 rebounds in just 15 minutes of play while nailing a trio of three-pointers. While she hasn’t played quite as much as other impactful rookies, her contributions in those minutes are undeniable.
Voters now have a decision to make: there are more than five rookies deserving of an All-Rookie team honor, and someone is going to have to be left off. Despite this, 2016’s rookie class will probably go down as the strongest one in a while, with future stars at every position and lots of high ceilings just waiting to be reached.
- Sylvia Fowles: 30 points (9-11 FG, 12-18 FT), 8 rebounds, 2 blocks vs Atlanta Dream
- Maya Moore: 27 points (8-16 FG, 3-5 3FG, 8-8 FT), 5 assists vs Chicago Sky
- Angel McCoughtry: 31 points (12-22 FG, 7-8 FT), 7 rebounds, 5 assists vs Washington Mystics
- Chelsea Gray: 23 points (8-10 FG, 2-3 3FG), 5 assists vs Phoenix Mercury
- Jonquel Jones: 21 points (8-10 FG, 3-3 FT), 7 rebounds vs Washington Mystics