The most unpredictable weekend of the Washington Mystics’ season ended with a familiar result: A double-digit win. The Mystics took down the Connecticut Sun 94-81 to win Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. With a 2 games to 1 lead, Washington sits just one victory away from the first championship in franchise history. All week, the teams had to calculate for the injury to Elena Delle Donne, the 2019 league MVP. The Mystics then announced that Ariel Atkins had back spasms and announced her along with EDD as questionable on Saturday. But when the game tipped off on Sunday, both players showed up, ready to play, and started. What proceeded was an awe-inspiring performance for DC and a heart-breaking one for CT.
Elena Delle Donne’s gutsy game
When Elena Delle Donne left Game 2, you couldn’t help but to feel for the MVP. She, yet again, was robbed of the opportunity to be 100% in the Finals. It seemed that she wouldn’t get to play at all on Saturday as Coach Mike Thibault said he anticipated her not playing.
But, Elena Delle Donne played in Game 3 and what she did with a herniated disc is frankly incredible. EDD finished the game with 13 points, 6 rebounds, an assist, and a block. She was 5 of 6 from the field and made 3 of her 4 three-point attempts. It was gutsy, tough, and lifted the Mystics.
She hit her first three of the game off a Kristi Toliver screen. That was all she needed to attract enough attention from the Sun on offense. Defensively, EDD got physical and did her best to patrol the paint with limited mobility. Not only did she make a positive impact on the floor, the team definitely got an energy boost from her (and Ariel Atkins’s) grittiness.
When she needed to, Elena Delle Donne found the energy to put the Sun away. Connecticut cut the lead to 10 points with three minutes left. The Mystics stumbled with turnovers as the Sun got back in it with a 10-4 run. But then EDD hit a tough layup using her go-go gadget arms to seal the Mystics’s win. It was a classic performance from one of the best in the game and that was the cherry on top.
The Most Important Victory in Franchise History
Yes, I realize that the Washington Mystics did not win the title in Game 3. However, this game will be viewed as a crucial moment if the Mystics do hoist a trophy later this week. Think of what the Mystics faced heading into this game. First, they had to travel to Connecticut to play one of the best home teams in the WNBA with their backs on the wall in this series. Then, they had to manage Elena Delle Donne’s injury and put away the memories of last year’s Finals. Ariel Atkins’s random injury made it feel as if the Basketball Gods just wouldn’t let the Mystics succeed.
But Washington didn’t flinch. They took the fight right to the Sun from tip off. The Mystics hopped out to a 32-17 lead after the first quarter. They shot over 65% from the field and three. After getting boarded to hell in Game 2, DC won the first-quarter rebounding battle 10 to 4.
From there, the Mystics leaders sustained the lead. Kristi Toliver finished with 20 points and 10 assists while missing just two shots. Natasha Cloud played some of her best defense on the season to hold Courtney Williams at bay, in addition to her 19 points. Emma Meesseman hit dagger threes in the early fourth quarter to keep the Sun from going on a run.
The Mystics pulled out this victory by doing what they do best. They had 20 assists and never stopped moving the ball. DC set the WNBA Finals record for three pointers with 16 triples. Most importantly, they trusted each other and played through each other. Everything great about the 2019 Washington Mystics was on display. And it may have just won them a championship.
Courtney Williams falls back down to earth
Courtney Williams, the star of the 2019 WNBA playoffs, lost some of her shine in Game 3. Williams finished with 6 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds. She shot just 2 of 9 from the field and one of those makes was at the 4th quarter buzzer. It was gross, to be frank.
Natasha Cloud and the Mystics did a great job on Courtney. They stuck closer to her off picks and challenged every one of her jumpers. They also made her work on the defensive end by attacking her in pick and rolls. DC deserves a lot of credit for Williams’s off night.
However, a lot of Courtney’s struggles were due to missing good looks. (Well, a good look for Courtney is not a good look for everyone but still.)
“I don’t feel like they really did nothing different. Granted, it may look that way if you look at the stat sheet, but I feel like I got to my spots like I always do,” said Courtney when asked what Washington changed defensively. “Ultimately, they’re the shots I’ve been making the first and second games. It ain’t nothing that I’m down about. I’m a shooter, I’m confident, it ain’t nothing.”
God, she is so cool. We’ll see her bounce back in Game 4. I’m sure of it.
The Deciding Quarter
Basketball fans, players, and coaches love to talk about the 4th quarter as “winning time,” when games are lost or won. However, “winning time” has seemingly come much earlier in this series. The team that has won the first quarter ended with the victory. Connecticut Head Coach Curt Miller thinks there is something to that.
“There hasn’t been a close first quarter in this series yet,” said Miller after Game 3. “You’re always climbing out of a hole. Washington had to feel the same way in Game 2 after our good start and so first quarters have been the story, regardless of all their made threes and everything.”
This phenomenon actually matches up with the regular season data. The Mystics went 21-4 when they led after one quarter while the Sun did just as well with an 18-2 record. Both teams find their energy early and know how to manage the ups-and-downs of a game.
We have no reason to believe that Game 4 will be any different. The team who wins the first quarter will win the game. However, don’t expect the double-digit lead at the end of the first quarter. The Sun and Mystics know how important it is to win it and both teams will be fighting tooth-and-nail for it.