The Washington Mystics are WNBA champions for the first time in franchise history.
Washington, which produced the most efficient offense in league history, came out on top, 89-78, against the Connecticut Sun in a tight Game 5 at their own Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. There were nearly as many ties and lead changes in the first half alone as in the first four games combined.
It’s the first title for two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne and head coach/general manager Mike Thibault, the winningest coach in WNBA history. He won most of those during a decade with the Sun and took them to their last final appearance in 2005.
Delle Donne, named the 2019 regular season MVP last month after she became the first WNBA player in the 50/40/90 club, was in her third finals appearance following the 2018 finals sweep and her 2014 appearance with the Chicago Sky.
“A lot of people question why I went to a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in a while and I saw it in coach,” Delle Donne told ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe. “I knew he was building something special. It’s why it means so much to get this for him.”
Kristi Toliver was the only player on the floor Thursday night who had won a championship previously. The Sun were also looking for their first trophy.
The best two teams in the regular season played a back-and-forth battle with few large runs that defined the series. The Sun went on a 10-2 break in the third for a nine-point lead, 53-44, but faced more foul trouble in a choppy, whistle-happy 40 minutes.
With Sun star Jonquel Jones on the bench at the 6:22 mark of the third, the Mystics cut into the lead and eventually took it over. They went into the final 10 minutes down, 64-62, and outscored the Sun, 27-14, along with solid defense, typically strong free throw shooting and clutch shots by sixth-player Emma Meeseman.
Said Thibault to a roaring, packed crowd during the trophy ceremony:
“We got them in foul trouble. Emma went to work inside. Elena does what she does. And our guards got out and defended them … [they] stepped up in the fourth quarter when you needed it and that’s why we’re standing here.”
Meesseman scored 22 points off the bench and was named finals MVP. She went 9 of 13 with three rebounds, three assists and two blocks over 27 minutes.
While Jones was on the bench, Meesseman scored 11 of the Mystics’ 18 points during the last six minutes of the third quarter.
Delle Donne had 21 points and continued to look more herself despite a herniated disc in her back. She had a team-high nine rebounds with two assists and a steal in 37 minutes.
Toliver and Natasha Cloud each added 18 points. Cloud drilled a 3-pointer 35 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Mystics the lead. She hit another at the 6:44 mark on an assist from Meesseman that tied the game at 70 and put in a layup to again take the advantage.
Courtney Williams tied it for the Sun but a Delle Donne 9-foot shot started the downhill run for Washington.
Williams, who finished with 16 points on 7-of-20 shooting, missed shots late to cut in and they couldn’t get it in to Jones, who led the Sun with 25 points and nine rebounds. She had 13 points and six rebounds in the first half.
Alyssa Thomas scored 21 with a team-high 12 rebounds and six assists. She got into foul trouble early and hit the bench with 2:48 left in the first quarter. She had two questionable foul calls in those early minutes as the refs called more than they had before. It was the first time she sat real minutes during the series after missing only 20 seconds.
The Sun and Mystics again played a nearly identical game statistically, with a glaring note on the 3-point line. The Mystics, known for their talent behind the arc, made only 4 of 19 attempts (21.1 percent). It was slightly better than the Sun (16.7 percent).
They also took the edge in shooting percentage (50.0 to 45.1), made free throws (19 to 12), rebounds (32-31), steals (6-4) and blocks (6-0).
The game was tight from the tip, a stark contrast to the four preceding it. There were 11 ties and six lead changes in the first half, nearly identical to the four games combined. The Mystics held a 23-20 advantage at the first break and the Sun went into the locker room with a slim 43-42 lead.