The WNBA announced that the second of its two scheduled semifinals between the Seattle Storm and the Minnesota Lynx will not be played on Sunday due to inconclusive COVID-19 tests.
The call was made late in the first semifinal, which the Connecticut Sun won over the No. 1 Las Vegas Aces in a stellar defensive showing.
Storm inconclusive tests force postponement
The No. 2 Storm, which had the inconclusive tests, were scheduled to play the No. 4 Lynx in a nationally televised game 1 on ABC at 3 p.m. ET. The WNBA announced the postponement a half an hour before tip.
The players with the inconclusive tests are undergoing additional testing and are in isolation. The Storm released a statement supporting the decision.
Statement from the Seattle Storm. pic.twitter.com/8Wp2JQbLAE
— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) September 20, 2020
The league is playing in a bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. There have been zero positive COVID-19 tests during the league’s stay. Players and teams arrived in late July and the regular season wrapped up last week.
Commissioner explains semifinals postponement
Commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke with ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe, who is the only reporter in the WNBA’s bubble, in an interview that aired at game time on ABC.
Engelbert said the postponement was because “we really can’t take a chance to expose the bubble to any kind of community spread.” She said the league needs to get and see more testing to decide if there is an issue, or an outbreak.
It was so close that the Storm were on their way to the sound stage that was turned into two courts for the WNBA.
Commissioner @CathyEngelbert said Storm were on the bus about to head to the game when she received the news and personally got on the bus and informed the players.
— Her Hoop Stats (@herhoopstats) September 20, 2020
The news came down as the Sun were deep into a dismantling of the Las Vegas Aces in their first semifinal game. ESPN play-by-play announcer Ryan Ruocco made the announcement on air shortly after the WNBA released it. But the players and coaches did not know.
Engelbert and WNBA Players Association executive director Terri Jackson spoke with the Sun in the locker room, per Alexa Philippou of the Hartford Courant.
Curt Miller said that WNBA commish Cathy Engelbert and Terri Jackson (WNBPA's executive director) talked with his team after they returned to the locker room.
That's when players found out about the Storm's multiple inconclusive tests.
— Alexa Philippou (@alexaphilippou) September 20, 2020
Sun coach Curt Miller addressed it in the post-game video call with reporters.
"None of us knew what was going on of course. Cathy (Engelbert) came and spoke to our teams. We've done a great job of keeping Covid out of our bubble. I hope these are false positives. The thing that is concerning is the multiple positives. @ConnecticutSun Coach Curt Miller
— Dorothy J. Gentry (@DorothyJGentry) September 20, 2020
As did Aces coach Bill Laimbeer, who told media that this scenario had been discussed with league officials in the past few days. Engelbert had outlined the league’s plan if inconclusive tests were to occur.
WNBA isolating players out of caution
League protocol treats inconclusive tests as positive tests to protect players, coaches and personnel. And to prevent the spread of the virus throughout its bubble community. There must be two negative tests more than 24 hours between each other for the player to be cleared.
The WNBA has had a few instances of inconclusive tests while in the bubble. Los Angeles Sparks rookie Te’a Cooper had to sit out a game after a test came back inconclusive as did Las Vegas Aces guard Lindsay Allen. They were each cleared with negative tests within the day.
A few players tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival at the facility. They were quarantined and did not return to their teams until they had multiple negative tests.
When can Storm-Lynx game be played?
The WNBA postseason is scheduled out through the finals. Game 2 is scheduled to take place on Tuesday with Game 3 on Thursday evening.
There will need to be two negative tests before players are cleared to return to the team and play. If those are taken Sunday and Monday, they would get results for them on Monday and Tuesday. It would theoretically clear them to play Tuesday evening in the same spot as scheduled, but only as Game 1.
Update (9/21): The WNBA schedulers sent out an updated email late Sunday with Connecticut/Las Vegas Game 2 moved up to 7 p.m. and Minnesota/Seattle Game 1 at 9 p.m. ET. This would be the schedule only if the teams are cleared; they are not yet.
That would seem to be the smartest move both to keep the players on a schedule and to keep the games in the same broadcast windows. It would also be fair to any team moving forward in terms of time to rest.
The only issue is if the Storm-Lynx series goes a full five games.
The initial concern is for the health of all of the players and personnel in the bubble. But in terms of basketball, the push back will have a few impacts.
The Lynx and the Storm have players with health concerns. It could give them more time to recover. On the flip side, the Storm will have gone nine days without playing a game. The teams with byes and double-byes have shown rust so far in this unique season.
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