The Washington Mystics weren’t shy about their intentions this season. Since the buzzer sounded in Game 3 of last year’s Finals, they have said they were coming back to win the championship. And last night, they did just that. They beat the Connecticut Sun in a grueling five game series, to claim the first title in franchise history. It really was the icing on the cake and an emphatic statement to a phenomenal season.
This game didn’t follow the same blueprint as the previous four. Either the Washington Mystics or the Sun will have jumped out to huge early leads and the other team would have to claw back during the course of the game. But last night was tightly contested throughout, until the waning moments, when Washington pulled away for the victory. Connecticut started out going to Jonquel Jones, who was a terror the entire series. Her work on the glass and inside scoring, created problems for the Mystics for the duration of the Finals. The Mystics began the game giving the Sun a heavy dose of the MVP. Elena Delle Donne said she felt significantly better going into Game 5, than the previous two games, since sustaining her injury, and it showed. She was moving much better, being aggressive and attacked. In games three and four, she was mostly lingering around the perimeter.
Alyssa Thomas had her fingerprints all over this game, as well. She has been beating up the box score the entire series, flirting with a triple double pretty much every game. Her defense, facilitating and intensity, played a huge role in keeping Connecticut in the game early. She finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists, in another well rounded performance. Not to mention, she played the entire series with a torn labrum, in each shoulder. Perhaps Connecticut’s most outspoken player, Courtney Williams, got it going early as well. But progressively cooled off as the game went on. We’ve gotten to see where she gets her exuberant personality from, as her dad has become a fan favorite across the league. Even in “enemy territory”, he brought his energy and liveliness to DC, as he watched his daughter and her teammates battle it out for the WNBA championship.
The first half ended with the Sun taking a one point advantage into the locker room. Anyone who has been following the league this year, felt that played into the Washington Mystics favor. They have been a dominant third quarter team the entire year, and they showed exactly why in Game 4, when they wiped away a 16-point lead in the third frame. This game was a little different. Connecticut jumped out to a 5-point lead, going to Jones again in the post, and converting on second chance points. The Mystics responded in kind. EDD kept doing EDD things, Natasha Cloud got timely buckets and then Emma put her imprint on this game. The Sun got out to a 9-point lead but Jonquel Jones had to go to the bench with her fourth foul. After that, Meesseman wreaked havoc.
She scored 11 points in the third quarter, and exploited mismatches in every way possible. Connecticut had no answer. They tried to counter her size with Brionna Jones but Emma’s footwork and speed was too much for her. Then they threw Morgan Tuck into the fire, but she was too small. Emma continued her onslaught in the third quarter, and it spilled over into the fourth. In the last period, the Mystics just overwhelmed the Sun. They turned their defense up, holding their opponent to 14 points while scoring a game high 27 points in the quarter. Natasha Cloud came up big in the fourth as well. She hit a huge three to tie the game up at 70 with 6:40 left, then came back with a layup, to put the Mystics up by a basket.
That sparked a 13-2 run that proved to be the last push the Mystics needed, to seal the deal. This epic finale capped off the Finals the WNBA and basketball, in general deserved. Both teams had different motivation, during the season. Washington was determined to get over the hump and Connecticut was eager to show they belonged. After dismantling the Sparks in the previous round, Courtney Williams exclaimed, “Tell them a bunch of role players did that!”. And of course the Mystics let everyone know out the gate what they were coming for. And they looked every opponent in the face, knowing they’d be throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them, and fired back with intensity.
I spoke with Natasha Cloud after the home opener in May and she said “we have a big target on our back and we add to it, by saying we want to run it back.” They didn’t shy from the challenge and fought through any obstacles to achieve their ultimate goal. Tasha kept the same energy all season, after guaranteeing a victory, following the Game 4 loss. The Mystics were the definition of a team this year and developed into a family. They were there for each other and had each other’s backs. Speaking of backs, Tasha spilled the beans on the true extent of Elena’s injury. She revealed that the MVP was playing with three herniated discs in her back.
Ariel Atkins also fought through a back injury during the Finals. Watching her play, you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong. She put her body on the line and battled in the trenches. We also have to talk about Mike Thibault. The winningest coach in league history now, has the ultimate feather in his cap. His experience and wealth of knowledge is one of the largest components of the Mystics’ success. He helped his team deal with the lofty expectations they had coming into the season, by saying, “pressure is a privilege.” And they walked in that privilege, all the way to the promised land.
This was a historic run for the Washington Mystics. They produced one of the greatest offensive seasons in WNBA history, backed up the tough talk and had a lot of fun along the way. In one of the most watched seasons in league history, the Mystics gave us a show for the ages. And if you know anything about the ladies on that team, you know they’re gearing up for an encore. They have to get these parties and celebrations out of the way first though.