2021 WNBA Playoffs

WNBA Playoffs Overview

There’s a new WNBA Playoffs format! The WNBA Board of Governors approved changes to the league’s playoff format and postseason seeding, effective with the 2022 season, the WNBA announced today, November 18, 2021. The reconfigured postseason structure will include three rounds of series-play using a best-of 3-5-5 format. And the new playoff format will provide the top eight teams with a consistent start to their playoff runs.

New WNBA Playoff format for 2022 and beyond

Beginning with the WNBA’s 26th season, the eight teams with the highest winning percentages over a 36-game schedule regardless of conference will qualify for the playoffs and be seeded based on their record. All eight playoff teams will participate in first-round, bracket-style play consisting of four best-of-three series.

In one bracket, first-round play will place the No. 1 seed facing the No. 8 seed and the No. 4 seed versus the No. 5 seed in a best-of-three series, with the winners advancing to a best-of-five semifinals series against one another. In the other bracket, the No. 3 seed will face the No. 6 seed and the No. 2 seed will meet the No. 7 seed, with the winners moving on to face one another in the other best-of-five semifinals series.

The winners of the semifinals series will then meet in the WNBA Finals, which also will be a best-of-five series, to determine the WNBA champion. Additional elements regarding the playoff structure are as follows:

  • The number of playoff rounds shifts from four to three and no teams will receive a bye to start the postseason. Teams will not be reseeded following the first round.
  • The planned change for the first-round series games will include a 2-1 format in which the higher seed will host Games 1 and 2 and the lower seed will host Game 3 if necessary.
  • The new format will add eight potential games to the playoff footprint.
  • The semifinals and WNBA Finals will each remain unchanged as best-of-five series and follow the same 2-2-1 format whereby the higher seed hosts Games 1, 2 and 5, and the lower-seeded team will host Games 3 and 4 in their respective series
New WNBA Playoff format

“We have been evaluating different playoff formats over the past 12 months, and the new playoff format being announced today will enable fans to engage with all of the league’s best teams and top stars right from the start of the postseason with all eight championship contenders immediately involved in exciting, first-round action,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

“Following significant discussions with our Competition Committee and a Playoff subcommittee we formed last year, it was clear that while the prior format’s single-elimination games created a win-and-advance level of excitement to the start of the postseason, the new best-of-three series format will provide added opportunities to create and showcase rivalries with all playoff-eligible teams participating.”

Previous WNBA Playoff format 2021 and player perspectives

The playoff format was previously updated in 2016, and consisted of four rounds using a 1-1-5-5 format, with two single elimination rounds and the No. 1 and 2 seeds receiving double-byes into the semifinals.  

WNBA Playoffs: It begins with the single-elimination playoffs. Each year, the eight teams with the highest winning percentages, regardless of conference, qualify for the playoffs and are seeded based on their record. There are four playoff rounds. And the top two seeds receive a bye to the semifinals (third round), and the third and fourth seeds receive a bye to the second round.

WNBA Semifinals: The semifinals feature a best-of-five format, with the number one overall seed playing the lowest remaining seed and the number two overall seed meeting the remaining team. 

WNBA Finals: The winner of the WNBA Finals is determined through a 2–2–1 format. The first, second, and fifth games of the series are played at the arena of the team who earned home court advantage by having the better record during the regular season.

Though not everyone was pleased with the format update reported Khristina Williams for Girls Talk Sports TV. When she asked Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird about the current playoff format back in 2020, Sue shared:

“You know it’s tough…What people do need to understand is that the format was changed for a lot of reasons and one was money. I think teams were losing money in those first couple rounds, because of the turn around…I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of reasons I don’t even know but it was a situation.”

I think when you’ve worked that hard to get a high seed like that, to only have one chance – of course I agree with everybody. If we could have that be a three-game series or something like that that would be great…So I kind of see both sides. I do think the single elimination is exciting. I think it’s great for fans – everybody loves a do-or-die situation. But I can imagine being that 3rd or 4th seed and not being too thrilled.”

“I actually feel that 8 teams making the playoffs is maybe too much. It’s 8 out of 12, that’s like a huge percentage of teams making it. So if there could be a way to change it up and have maybe longer series instead of…I don’t know.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier also voiced her concerns, saying “I do think that format needs to change. It needs to be at least — even if they don’t jump to five (games), make it a three.”

It’s not just players that dislike the current format. It is coaches too, and some of them have ideas on exactly how it could be improved. “We need to go to a 3-5-5 [series] format,” Phoenix Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said, reports Mechelle Voepel for ESPN. “So hopefully that will happen next year.”

It turns out the single-elimination games have not actually helped with ratings either. “So, the single-elimination games have not been overwhelmingly big draws, and the Game 5s in the semifinals — when they do occur — tend to do better,” said Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch, who also noted that Chicago’s double-overtime win over Connecticut in Game 1 of the Semifinals in 2021 outperformed all single-elimination games since 2016.

2021 WNBA Playoffs results

Find out how the 2021 WNBA Playoffs went! We’ll reveal the play-by-play of the series, the 2021 WNBA Playoffs bracket, how to watch, which teams won, and much more. We’ll also explore what the 2016 change to the Playoffs format means.

The Connecticut Sun, the Las Vegas Aces, the Seattle Storm, the Phoenix Mercury, the Minnesota Lynx, the Chicago Sky, the Dallas Wings, and the New York Liberty (their first time in the playoffs since 2017) each clinched a 2021 Playoffs spot. The Wings and the Liberty were eliminated in Round One. Minnesota and Seattle were both pushing to make this their fifth WNBA championship, but the Storm and the Lynx were eliminated in Round Two.

In the Semifinals best-of-five-series, Chicago bested Connecticut (3-1), and is headed to the Championship for the first time since 2014! After posting the best single-season winning percentage in franchise history (.813), the Sun had been seeking to win its first WNBA championship, led by MVP candidate Jonquel Jones.

Meanwhile Phoenix beat Las Vegas in their Semifinals series (3-2), despite a Kia Nurse ACL injury and Sophie Cunningham’s calf strain. The Las Vegas revenge tour – after reaching the WNBA Finals last season before losing to Seattle in a three-game sweep – led by 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson and reigning Western Conference Player of the Month Kelsey Plum has now ended.

In the first game of the 2021 WNBA Finals series, Chicago took a 1-0 series lead beating Phoenix 91-77 with a dynamic performance from Kahleah Copper, in their first-ever WNBA Finals victory in franchise history. In the second game, Phoenix tied up the series 1-1 with a win over Chicago 91-86 in overtime. Then, Chicago and Phoenix met on Friday, October 15th and the Sky took the lead (2-1) in an easy 86-50 win. On Sunday, October 17th, the Sky beat Phoenix (80-74) becoming WNBA Champions (3-1) for the first time in their franchise history.

WNBA Playoffs bracket 2021

Here’s the final WNBA 2021 playoffs bracket, featuring the champion Chicago Sky.

2021 WNBA Finals Playoff bracket

WNBA Playoffs TV schedule

2021 WNBA Playoffs TV schedule

How to watch the 2021 WNBA Playoffs

All 19 WNBA playoff games will be broadcast on either ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2. To watch the 2021 WNBA semifinals online, you can stream every game at ESPN.com or on the ESPN app, or on the ABC live website. You can also see all the games online after they’re over by watching the recordings on WNBA League Pass. See more information on how to watch WNBA games here.

WNBA Playoffs 2021 scores

First Round (Single Elimination)

  • Thursday, September 23: Chicago beat Dallas (81-64)
  • Thursday, September 23: Phoenix beat New York (83-82)

Second Round Results (Single Elimination)

  • Sunday, September 26: Phoenix beat Seattle (85-80)
  • Sunday, September 26: Chicago beat Minnesota (89-76)

Semifinals Results (Best of 5 Series)

  • Tuesday, September 28: Chicago beat Connecticut (101-95)
  • Tuesday, September 28: Las Vegas beat Phoenix (96-90)
  • Thursday, September 30: Connecticut beat Chicago (79-68)
  • Thursday, September 30: Phoenix beat Las Vegas (117-91)
  • Sunday, October 3: Chicago beat Connecticut (86-83)
  • Sunday, October 3: Phoenix beat Las Vegas (87-60)
  • Wednesday, October 6: Chicago beat Connecticut (79-69)
  • Wednesday, October 6: Las Vegas beat Phoenix (93-76)
  • Friday, October 8: Phoenix beat Las Vegas (87-84)

Finals (Best of 5 Series)

  • Sunday, October 10: Chicago beat Phoenix (91-77)
  • Wednesday, October 13: Phoenix beat Chicago (91-86)
  • Friday, October 15: Chicago beat Phoenix (86-50)
  • Sunday, October 17: Chicago beat Phoenix (80-74)

WNBA Playoffs 2021 play-by-play recap

The WNBA Playoffs schedule 2021 began four days after the end of the season on Thursday, September 23rd. The first round games featured the teams in fifth through eighth place in terms of overall league standings. The winning team from that series went on to face the third and fourth place teams in a single elimination game.

2021 Playoffs single elimination games

In win-or-go-home games, Chicago Sky defeated the Dallas Wings (64-81), and the Phoenix Mercury beat New York Liberty (82-83).

Up next, the winning teams took on the top two seeds on Sunday, September 26th, again in single elimination-style play. Phoenix battled the Storm in Seattle and won, in a nail-biter that went into overtime, 85-80.

Seattle Storm’s veteran guard Sue Bird said she isn’t sure if the game will be her last career game, but she is not in a hurry to make a decision. “I’ve been really trying to push away those thoughts,” Sue said. “The minute I even let myself think about it, it makes me want to cry. This is the first offseason where I feel like I need to weigh it.”

Afterwards, Chicago faced up against Minnesota, matching mobile 6-4 Candace Parker up against some of the best front court in the league: duo Sylvia Fowles, the 6-foot-6 classic low-block center, and versatile lock-down defender Napheesa Collier. Chicago emerged victorious at Minnesota, with an 89-76 win, including 22 points from Courtney Vandersloot.

2021 WNBA Semifinals five series

The best-of-five Semifinals series began on Tuesday, September 27th with Chicago over taking Connecticut (101-95) in double overtime. Courtney Vandersloot had the second triple-double in WNBA playoff history (12 points, 10 rebounds, 18 assists), joining Sheryl Swoopes. Then, Las Vegas beat the Mercury (96-90), with Riquna Williams hitting 26 points and Kelsey Plum knocking in 25 points off the bench.

In the second game of the Semifinals series, Connecticut beat Chicago (79-68), evening things up in the five-game series (each team now has one win). Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner both scored 15 points. Six of Alyssa’s came during Connecticut’s fourth period 13-3 run to take command.

Later that night, Phoenix achieved a blow out win (117-91) over Las Vegas in their second match up, also evening things up (each team now has one win). Diana Taurasi set a new career playoff highs in points (37) and 3-pointers (8). “I’ve been with this team for eight years and I try and think back, ‘Man, have we ever scored that many points?’ I don’t think so,” Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said. “It was great. Diana, BG, all of us, I just thought we were making shots tonight and that certainly helped us.”

In the third games of the Semifinals series, Chicago won at home against Connecticut (86-83), with Kahleah Copper leading the way with 26 points. And Phoenix won at home against Las Vegas (87-60), with Brianna Turner hitting a career-high 23 points.

In the fourth game of the Semifinals series, Chicago beat the top-seeded Connecticut Sun (79-69), securing Chicago’s place in the WNBA Finals – their first time back since 2014! Courtney Vandersloot scored 19 points and Kahleah Copper added 18.

In the fourth game Semifinals match up between Phoenix and Las Vegas, Las Vegas took home the win (93-76), tying up the series (2-2). Chelsea Gray led the Aces with 22 points and Kelsey Plum scored 20 off the bench.

Phoenix’s Kia Nurse suffered a knee injury in the opening minute after being blocked by A’ja Wilson on a break layup, and did not return to the game. Phoenix was also without guard Sophie Cunningham due to a calf strain. 

For the last match of the Phoenix versus Las Vegas series on October 8th, Shey Peddy scored seven early points in the first quarter, leading the Mercury and putting them ahead 20-14. The Aces’ Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson, and Liz Cambage responded in the second quarter, leaving the Mercury with just a slim lead as they headed into the locker room: 44-42. 

In the third quarter, as the Mercury’s shooting faltered, the Aces took advantage with fast breaks, going on a 14-0 run, including some highlight reel-worthy dimes from Chelsea Gray. With the Aces up 66-58, a heated Jackie Young and Diana Taurasi exchanged some words and had to be separated by the refs.

But Diana Taurasi started doing “White Mamba” things in the fourth quarter, knocking in clutch buckets during a Mercury 10-0 run, giving them the lead early in the fourth. The Aces found a response with a few timely buckets from Kelsey and Chelsea. But ultimately Brittney Griner put on the clamp down, and Las Vegas fell short (87-84).

“We are still a young team. It’s a good learning experience of how hard it is and how mentally strong you have to have to be. They have two mentally strong players (Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner). We need to acquire that, whether we grow up or acquire something.” reflected Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer after the game.

“I have no doubt we’ll be back, and the result will be different.” said Kelsey Plum.

Up next, read all about the 2021 WNBA Finals series here, plus see Finals history all the way back to 1997.

Enjoy the WNBA Playoffs 2021

25 years later, the league is more popular than ever and just getting started. Learn even more about WNBA history and the WNBA’s 25th season, as well as WNBA MVPs.

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