Run It Back. That was the mantra for the Washington Mystics starting from the moment they lost in the WNBA Finals last season. Last night, they righted that wrong by winning the first title in franchise history. Winning a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Connecticut Sun 89-78. Successfully completing their goal, from running it back to first time champs.
Emma Meesseman was named the Finals Most Valuable Player, scoring 22 points in the win. She also made history by becoming the first player to win Finals MVP that came off the bench. Elena Delle Donne had 21 points and nine rebounds, the news also came out after the game courtesy of Natasha Cloud that the 2019 Regular Season MVP had more than just one herniated disc as reported. Cloud spilled the beans, sharing that Delle Donne played with three. She’s played with several ailments during her past few postseason runs, this the first time ending as a champion.
Mike Thibault, the winningest coach in WNBA history got his first title as well. It’s been the one thing he hadn’t done in his career, despite coming close several times. Nearly every Mystics player said this win was as much for him as it was for each other.
One of the themes, well trends in this series was that whoever won the first quarter, won the game. It rang true from the beginning to the very end, last night was the closest the first quarter had been, but Washington won the opening period by three. The other theme in this series was who held the edge on the glass, the Mystics won that by just one.
After a first half in which both teams traded punches, neither could truly create the separation seen in past contests.
Washington had been known to have big third quarters, but it was the Sun that started the second half strong in Game 5. Jonquel Jones got things going inside, Courtney Williams added a few buckets and with 6:39 left in the period, Jones scored her 19th point of the game. Two plays later she picked up her fourth foul, that sent her to the bench.
Emma Meesseman came in for LaToya Sanders and she took advantage of the matchups, she was too quick for Brionna Jones and too tall for Morgan Tuck. Emma scored 11 of her 22 points in the period, giving Washington life. The Sun didn’t relinquish their lead though, Alyssa Thomas hit a runner late to give her team a two point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Once Emma became a bit more assertive it opened things up for others, Jonquel re-entered the game at the start of the fourth.
Jasmine Thomas found Courtney Williams for a baseline jumper to even things at 72 with 5:39 left in the period. That’s when the Mystics struck, Elena Delle Donne sparked an 8-0 run that helped her team take control. She had four points during that stretch and Meesseman capped the run off with a jumper, the Mystics led 80-72 with 2:54 left.
The Sun struggled to get much on the offensive end, but they were able to get to the line a few times. The problem is they were running out of time and had to play the foul game, the Mystics took care of business at the line. Toliver’s two free throws with 28 seconds left officially closed the door on a Connecticut comeback and secured the Washington win.
Labeled “the missing piece” by her teammates for much of the year, Meesseman proved she was just that during this championship run. Her versatility on both ends helped swing things in Washington’s favor in both of Washington’s post season series. The only question was how aggressive she would be, at times she has to be told to shoot as her nature is to just fit in or look for her teammates. In a deciding Game 5 she only had one moment when she passed up a shot, outside of that instance, she was assertive and it played a big role in Washington’s win.
Natasha Cloud had a big game as well, scoring 18 points after guaranteeing a win following her team’s Game 4 loss in Connecticut. She put in so much work on the defensive end this post season and still found it in her to contribute on the offensive end. Washington really hits a different level when she ready and willing to shoot the open shot.
Kristi Toliver also scored 18 points, hitting a few big free throws down the stretch. As the only member of the Mystics to have won a WNBA championship before, she told her team to “regret nothing” going into this do-or-die contest and they took heed.
Jonquel Jones led the Sun with 25 points, while Alyssa Thomas had another double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Connecticut proved why they were the second best team in the league in this series. They pushed Washington for five consecutive games, both teams made it incredibly hard on the other when it came to getting stops.
The Sun may not have the most big name players, but they have big time players. Jones and Thomas are one of the most dangerous four-five combos in the league, they both get it done in different ways, but their versatility is what makes them so special. Williams is a microwave and at times in this series, she went off. Connecticut isn’t going anywhere, like Washington’s experience in the Finals last year, this is a part of the process. There’s no reason to expect them not to be in the picture next season.
The Washington Mystics christened their new home, the Entertainment and Sports Arena in the best way possible. A historic regular season featuring several franchise records en route to locking down the top seed in the playoffs, followed by a hard fought postseason in which a deciding Game 5 was played on their home floor. Winning the franchise’s first Championship in front of their loyal fans, closing the first year at the ESA in the most perfect of ways.