No one would have thought that the Washington Mystics were missing anything heading into the playoffs. The team had reeled off 12 wins in the last 14 games of the regular season. They dominated over that stretch as DC won by a margin of 17 points on average. But after the Mystics took a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Las Vegas Aces, a lot of the team’s statements focused on what was missing: Kristi Toliver and Emma Meesseman. Toliver missed the last 13 games of the regular season with a bone bruise in her right knee while Emma Meesseman missed all of last season to rest and regroup mentally. With both these missing pieces back, the Mystics might actually be unstoppable.
Meesseman going off
Winning in the WNBA playoffs obviously takes a team effort. But Emma Meesseman really pushed the Mystics to wins in the first two games in this Semifinals series. Over the last two games, the Belgian big scored 57 points (!!!) while shooting 62.2% from the field and 63.6% from deep. She is also averaging eight rebounds per game and almost four assists per game. Those are numbers that even newly-minted MVP Elena Delle Donne would be proud of.
Meesseman did a lot of her damage by just drilling open shots. The Aces have to pay so much attention to EDD that it gives Emma open looks. And you should not give Emma any open looks because she will make you pay. Liz Cambage summed it up in her curt post-game interview when asked what Meesseman did well: “She ain’t missing shots.” For her part, Meeseman also boiled down her performance to just making buckets.
“It’s easier to take my shot when it goes in,” joked the 26-year old. “When you have the hot hand, just keep shooting. That’s what I did. The eleven assists [for Natasha Cloud]were probably all to me. So, they left me open and I’ll take [the open shots]now.”
Meesseman, the Missing Piece
While Meeseman downplayed her performance, everyone saw that she did more than just hit open shots. She drove to the basket and hit circus layups. She made some excellent passes when the defense rotated to her. Also, she played some great defense. Aces Coach Bill Laimbeer identified Meesseeman as “a problem we have to figure out” in his post-game comments. Vegas point guard Kelsey Plum quipped that the Aces “figured out what didn’t work against Meesseman.”
But, really, is there a way to stop Meesseman right now? All season, the Mystics identified Meesseman as the player to push them over the edge to get a championship. After games 1 and 2, Meesseman is proving her teammates and coaches right.
“She’s been preached at all year by her teammates and coaches that she is the missing piece from a year ago,” explained Coach T after game 1. “Her aggressiveness, ability to shoot the ball and rebound the ball was going to be the difference for us. Her comment to me last year was ‘you guys went to the Finals without me, you don’t need me.’ And I said, ‘but we didn’t win.’ We need her.”
Meesseman is not necessarily shy. But she is humble and has downplayed her role on this team. She always tries to give credit to her teammates and say all her success is due to their efforts. But the rest of the Mystics will not let her get away with it. When I asked Emma about the “missing piece” label, she immediately tried to refute it and Elena Delle Donne was not having it. Here’s the exchange:
Even if Meesseman doesn’t keep up this level of scoring, she has already showed that she is a difference maker. Teams have to gameplan for her and put resources towards slowing her down. That will open up opportunities for other players to shine.
In short, the Mystics were right when they told us that Emma Meesseman was their missing piece. So far, she has led this team to where they want to be in the playoffs: up 2-0 against one of the league’s best team. The question now becomes “can she keep it up?” We’ll find out on Sunday at 5 pm on ESPN 2 as the Mystics go for a sweep of the Aces in Vegas.