Las Vegas Aces-Seattle Storm instant classic ranks among all-time greatest WNBA playoff games

If you had a hard time absorbing the last few seconds of regulation in Sunday's 2022 WNBA playoff game between the Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm, you're not alone. There was enough drama in that short time frame for an entire series.

The Aces took a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five semifinal battle after a 110-98 overtime victory in Seattle that left the Storm wondering how it got away. They had a four-point lead with 11.3 seconds to go, and then it got crazy.

Riquna Williams, the guard who Aces coach Becky Hammon pointed to earlier in the series as a potential X factor off the bench, nailed a 3-pointer. Tina Charles missed two free throws for Seattle. A'ja Wilson made a driving layup for Las Vegas. Sue Bird hit a 3-pointer that seemed to be another of her many game-winning daggers in a two-decade pro career for Seattle. But Las Vegas had just enough time for Jackie Young's layup to send the game to overtime.

When the buzzer sounded on the extra period, MVP candidates Wilson (34 points, 11 rebounds) and Breanna Stewart (20, 15) had double-doubles, as did Aces guard Chelsea Gray, who has been the best player in this WNBA postseason (29 points, 12 assists). Ten players in all scored in double figures, as this series that features seven No. 1 draft picks continues to live up to the hype. All three games have been great, but Sunday's, with so many clutch plays with so much on the line, became an instant classic.

Where does it rate among WNBA playoff games? Here is a look at the 10 best.

1. Game 5 of 2016 WNBA Finals: Sparks 77, Lynx 76

Oct. 20 at Target Center in Minneapolis. The first of back-to-back Finals meetings between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx, this game on the Lynx's home court was for the championship.

Eleven points were scored in the final 1 minute, 12 seconds, 10 of them by No. 1 draft picks: Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker for the Sparks; Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore for the Lynx. Seven of those points came in the last 23.4 seconds, including Ogwumike's game-winner with 2.1 seconds left on a putback of her own shot that had been blocked by Sylvia Fowles.

The Sparks won the franchise's third title -- the first for Parker and Ogwumike -- and kept the Lynx from winning three titles in a row and five overall, as they triumphed in 2015 and 2017, along with 2011 and 2013.

Sparks fans recall it as one of the sweetest moments in team history. Lynx fans point to a critical missed shot-clock violation against the Sparks on Ogwumike's basket with 1:12 left, which the WNBA officially acknowledged the next day. The league also acknowledged a missed eight-second violation against the Lynx late in their Game 4 win.

2. Game 3 of 2022 semifinals: Aces 110, Storm 98

Sept. 4 at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. Never before in a WNBA playoff game had there been three go-ahead or game-tying shots in the final 3 seconds of regulation or overtime until it happened Sunday. Observers barely had a chance to tweet out, "Sue Bird does it again!" before Young sent it to overtime.

Afterward, Hammon, in her first season as head coach, said, "This is the biggest game on the sidelines for me. But I can't think of a back-and-forth, between two heavyweights, like this game. I mean, it was just big shot after big shot after big shot. And you've got two players who are in the prime of their career going at it. You really can't draw it up any better from a spectator viewpoint."

Stay tuned, though, because three games that Hammon played in are on this list, too.

3. Game 5 of 2018 WNBA semifinals: Storm 94, Mercury 84

Sept. 4 at KeyArena in Seattle. Four years to the day before Sunday's Storm heartbreak was one of the best clutch performances in Bird's incredible career, and it came at the expense of good friend Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury.

Phoenix led by as much as 11 in the first half and were up 46-41 at halftime, and then 63-59 after three quarters. But led by Bird -- who had suffered a broken nose earlier in the series and at one point in Game 5 had missed eight consecutive shots -- the Storm rallied to win and then swept the Washington Mystics in the WNBA Finals for Seattle's third title.

Bird had 14 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter, and Stewart had 28 points. All five Mercury starters scored in double figures, led by Brittney Griner, who had 21 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.

4. Game 1 of 2009 WNBA Finals: Mercury 120, Fever 116

Sept. 29 at US Airways Center in Phoenix. In an offensive tour-de-force from both teams, the score was 105-105 after regulation. On a rare subpar night from Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings (who had eight points), the Fever were led by Katie Douglas, Ebony Hoffman and Tammy Sutton-Brown, who combined for 76 points. The Mercury's big three of Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor combined for 68. Indiana shot 55.6% from the field and the Mercury 50%. The Fever won the next two games, including an 86-85 Game 3 thriller, but Phoenix won the last two for its second title.

5.Game 2 of 2008 Western Conference finals: Silver Stars 67, Sparks 66

Sept. 27 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. It was a very competitive 2008 postseason as the six series before the WNBA Finals all went the distance, including San Antonio, which had the league's best record that year, and Los Angeles.

The Silver Stars had lost Game 1 of the West finals by 15 points. Then in the last 52 seconds of Game 2, San Antonio's Hammon hit a 3-pointer and Sophia Young made two free throws, while Los Angeles' DeLisha Milton-Jones made a putback. The Sparks were less than 2 seconds from the WNBA Finals. But Young took an inbounds pass from Vickie Johnson (current coach of the Dallas Wings) and launched a turnaround shot at the buzzer that hit the glass, hit the rim, bounced up and went in. The Sparks' Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker had double-doubles, as did Young.

The Stars then won Game 3 76-72 and went to the Finals, depriving 2008 MVP/Rookie of Year Parker a chance at winning the WNBA title in the same year she had won the NCAA championship and an Olympic gold medal. Detroit swept the Silver Stars in the Finals, but Young's shot remains the highlight of the San Antonio years of the franchise that is now the Aces.

6. Game 1 of 2021 semifinals: Sky 101, Sun 95, double OT

Sept. 28 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Sun had the league's best regular-season record (26-6), while the Sky were 16-16. But after single-elimination wins (the WNBA's playoff format for early rounds from 2016-2021) against Dallas and Minnesota, the Sky's playoff mojo was rolling -- and led them all the way to the franchise's first championship.

They struck first in this series behind guard Courtney Vandersloot's triple-double, just the second in WNBA playoff history, as she had 12 points, a playoff-record 18 assists and 10 rebounds. Jonquel Jones, the 2021 MVP, led the Sun with 26 points and 11 rebounds.

7. Game 2 of 2002 WNBA Finals: Sparks 69, Liberty 66

Aug. 31 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. In what was still a best-of-three WNBA Finals series, the Sparks got a game-winning 3-pointer from rookie Nikki Teasley to break the hearts of the Liberty and young guard Hammon, then in her fourth WNBA season. New York played for the championship four times in the league's first six seasons, but hasn't been back to the WNBA Finals since 2002. This is also the last time a team won back-to-back WNBA titles; Los Angeles had defeated Charlotte in the 2001 Finals. Chicago, with a 2-1 lead in its current semifinal series with Connecticut, is still alive to try to match that feat, which predates the Sky franchise's existence by four years.

8. Game 2 of 1999 WNBA Finals: Liberty 68, Comets 67

Sept. 4 at Compaq Center in Houston. With confetti being prematurely released from the Houston arena ceiling, the New York Liberty's Teresa Weatherspoon launched a half-court heave that swished at the buzzer and saved the Liberty's season for another day. Before you ask why this is so low: If this list were ranking the most famous WNBA shots, it would be at the top, but the overall game wasn't as good.

There were a combined 27 turnovers, 64 free-throw attempts (the Comets missed 10, which really stung in a one-point loss) and both teams shot under 40% from the field. Houston stars Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes were a combined 4-of-22, which left the door open for Spoon's heroics. The first teammate to reach her for a postgame hug was Hammon, an undrafted rookie who made the Liberty roster and scored 10 points off the bench that day. Game 3, however, was a 59-47 Comets win for their third consecutive title.

9. Game 3 of 2015 WNBA Finals: Lynx 80, Fever 77

Oct. 9 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. When Indiana and Minnesota met in the 2012 WNBA Finals, Game 3 in Indianapolis was a nightmare for the Lynx, when nothing went right in a 76-59 loss and the Fever then went on to win the championship. Three years later, it was the same Finals scenario: The Fever and Lynx split the first two games in Minneapolis, and Minnesota risked falling behind 2-1 in the series.

But Lynx star Maya Moore didn't let it happen. With 1.7 seconds left, Moore took an inbounds pass from Lindsay Whalen, pump-faked to lose her defender and launched a shot from the top of the key with one-tenth of a second left. Her fourth 3-pointer of Game 3 came at the buzzer to give Minnesota the victory.

Both teams shot 50% or better from the field, but Moore's dagger saved the day for Minnesota, which then won the title in five games.

10. Game 2 of 2010 Western Conference finals: Storm 91, Mercury 88

Sept. 5 at US Airways Center in Phoenix. Nine players total scored in double figures, led by Taurasi's 28 points for Phoenix and Swin Cash's 23 for Seattle. Bird, who had 16 points and eight assists, hit the dagger shot: a game-winning 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds left. It closed out the West finals 2-0 for the Storm, who went on to sweep Atlanta in the WNBA Finals for Seattle's second title.