UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The Washington Mystics have proven time and again they’re capable of scoring 3-pointers in bunches. The Connecticut Sun have thrived on terrific performances from guard Courtney Williams on both ends of the floor.
But with all due respect to the guards and wings, it’s the bigs who will decide the WNBA Finals.
When Washington hosts Game 5 of the best-of-five series Thursday night at the Entertainment and Sports Arena, the Mystics faithful could see one of the league’s oldest franchises lift the championship trophy for the first time.
Whatever the outcome, they’ll see a physical battle among some of the most talented fours and fives in the league: Washington’s Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman and Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas.
The MVP back on the block
As pained as she is by a herniated disk pinching a nerve in her back, Delle Donne is playing through it in the most important moment of her professional career. After playing 30 minutes Tuesday, she said she felt looser than she did in Game 3.
“Hopefully I’ll continue to progress and feel even better Thursday,” Delle Donne said. “They were playing more aggressive defensively. They weren’t just letting us sit outside and shoot threes comfortably. So I was trying to just draw attention by driving and hoping to get other people open.”
That’s key — although Washington made 10 of 21 from the arc in Game 4 and has shot 47.3% from there for the series, by now the Sun know better than to give up many open looks from outside.
This is where a 6-foot-5 All-Star stationed down low would come in handy. But Mystics coach Mike Thibault said Delle Donne’s injury has made it harder for her to post up.
“We’ll see how she feels come Thursday,” Thibault said. “But that would be something we would need to do a little bit better is get an inside versus outside game. They had 26 points in the paint in the first half and we had in the teens. You know, we’ve got to get her some touches in different spots on the floor.”
Jones an anchor down low
The Game 4 shot chart says it all: Though she only attempted 10 shots, four of Jones’ five baskets came from the paint or the right block. Ten attempts is a bit low for Jones, but Connecticut coach Curt Miller was happy with what his center was able to do without the ball.
“We went stretches without her touching it, which was frustrating, but her activity never stopped,” he said. “I thought she was really active around the glass, even when she wasn’t touching.”
The Sun usually need to outrebound their opponents to win games. When Delle Donne missed most of Game 2, the Sun dominated the Mystics on the boards 41 to 27, and Jones grabbed 18 rebounds — nine offensive, nine defensive.
In Games 3 and 4, Jones still led all players with nine and 13 boards, respectively. But almost all of those came off the defensive glass, which Washington doesn’t mind. Mystics center LaToya Sanders knew why that number was so high Tuesday.
“At the end of the day, the majority of her rebounds were defensive rebounds, so — make shots?” Sanders said. “Make shots so she don’t get defensive rebounds. I feel like we did a good job again with her on the offensive rebounds … We had a couple bunnies, chippy shots that we missed, so if we do that obviously her rebounds will go down.”
Thomas keeping the offense moving
Miller has called Thomas the best facilitating power forward in the WNBA, “with the exception of maybe Candace Parker.” That’s high praise, but check her numbers: 11 assists in Game 4, following nine in Game 3.
“(The Mystics are) too talented, they’re too well-coached to do anything for too long,” Miller said. “But in stretches tonight with Alyssa starting the offense, we were really, really productive. Some of our most productive offense came with her running the offense.”
Meesseman the leading scorer
Unlike Delle Donne, Meesseman doesn’t dominate in the post, but she can knock down shots from anywhere. She was held scoreless in the first half on five field goal tries Tuesday, then got her game going again in the second half once the Mystics began passing more, she said.
The Mystics came close to the title Tuesday, leading by as many as five points in the fourth quarter despite a 16-point halftime deficit. So players like Sanders say they like where they’re at entering the decisive Game 5.
“People know that we’re going back home, going to our houses, our beds, our food,” Sanders said. “I just like our mindset. We know that we gave this one away. We gave this one away. So we’re just gonna get ready, get our bodies ready for another 40-minute fight.”
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