For 35 minutes, the Connecticut Sun stood toe-to-toe with the Washington Mystics in game five of the WNBA finals Thursday night in Washington.
But in the final five minutes, the Mystics gave up just one field goal and didn’t allow a second shot by the Sun to win their first-ever WNBA championship with a 89-78 victory.
Two-time league MVP Elena Delle Donne won her first-ever championship along with long-time Mystics head coach Mike Thibault, the winningest coach in WNBA history (336 wins), Mystics history and Sun history. The Mystics won the best-of-five series, 3-2.
Delle Donne, who was slowed by a who has been slowed by a herniated disc that is pinching a nerve in her back, moved much better than she did in game three and four. She had 21 points, pulled down nine rebounds and had two blocked shots.
Emma Meesseman, scored 11 of her team-high 22 points in the third quarter, as Washington erased a nine-point Connecticut lead. The Sun cut the lead to six points, with 2:18 remaining but it was Meesseman with a baseline jumper with 1:51 that put the Mystics ahead by eight points.
The 6-foot-4 forward from Belgium, who missed 11 games this season with commitments with the Belgium national team, averaged 11.9 points during the regular season. She averaged 17.8 points in the finals with three games over 20 points. She was named the series MVP – the first time that the honor went to a non-starting player.
Connecticut lost in the finals for the third time and the first time since 2005. Jonquel Jones had a game-high 25 points and pulled down nine rebounds while Alyssa Thomas scored 21 points, pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds and dished out six assists.
Courtney Williams scored 16 points but was 7-of-20 from the field. Jasmine Thomas had a rough night shooting the basketball, scoring just two points on 1-of-6 shooting. Shekinna Stricklen had seven points for the Sun.
“It stings right now,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “You sit in that locker room when the team had started out with a mission and a bold tagline front office campaign that we were going to burn it down and take the next step as an organization and as a team. From the moment training camp started we never shied from that and handled the pressure. They fought through those moments the entire season and put themselves in an unbelievable position to win their first championship.”
“We only made five field goals in the fourth quarter,” Miller said. “I thought they got really physical with us. I thought our spacing shrunk with some of the physicality and we didn’t execute, and when it was all said and done, they played a better 10 minutes in that fourth quarter and deserved the championship.”
For the first time in the series, the Sun were bothered by foul troubles. Alyssa Thomas picked up two fouls in the first quarter and had to spend some time on the bench. She had played nearly every minute of the previous four games. Jones played much of the second half with four fouls.
Both players had to back off when Delle Donne and Meesseman drove to the basket several times in the second half to ensure they stayed in the game.
It was a well-played first half with the Sun grabbing a 43-42 lead. The Mystics led by as many as six points while the Sun led by as many as five. The game was tied 11 times in the first half and saw the lead change six times.
Connecticut took their biggest lead early in the third quarter with a 10-2 run to grab a 53-44 lead. Jones had six of the 10 points with Williams scoring four on a pair of contested jumpers.
But Washington began to pound the Sun inside with plays for Delle Donne and Meesseman. Nine points from Meesseman and four from Delle Donne helped fuel a 12-3 run by the Mystics to cut the Connecticut lead to two points, 56-54.
“What I give credit to Emma was is that she had (different) stretches (of success) in the series. In the fourth quarter in Game 3, it was pick-and-pop. Tonight it was one-on-one isolations. And so that’s what’s special about Emma is she has a versatility to her game,” Miller said.
“I mean, they were aggressive. They found something that was working and kept going back to it, and we struggled to slow it down, and then we couldn’t put the ball in the hoop on the other end,” Alyssa Thomas said.
The Sun took a 70-67 lead when Jones scored over two Mystic defenders with 7:02 left. But Natasha Cloud scored on back-to-back plays for the Mystics with a three-pointer from the top of the key and a basket after a Sun turnover to give the Mystics a 72-70 lead.
Williams hit a jumper from the top of the circle to tie the game at 72-72 with 5:38 remaining but the Sun would only sink one of their remaining seven shots from the field in the game.
Thibault brought home a title in his fourth trip to the finals. He led the Sun to the WNBA finals in 2004 and 2005 and fell short. A year ago, his Mystics were swept by Seattle. This time, it was all smiles for Thibault and his team.
“I think one of the best things about this team is the camaraderie and the family atmosphere on this team,” he said. “They love each other. They played for each other. When we had our toughest moment tonight in the third quarter, we banded together, played like we had all year. They just were warriors.”
The Sun feel one victory shy of their first championship but even Miller could appreciate the special level of play in the series.
“But man, it’s fun. You can pick out all 10 starters in this series and talk about how special they are and the special stretches that they had in this series,” Miller said. “It wasn’t one person for either team, and every game different people stepped up for both teams. I think it was good for the league. It may not have been a buzzer beater. We didn’t have that kind of finish in any of the five games, but man, it was good offensive basketball, and it was laying it on the line defensively.”
2019 WNBA championship
Best of 5
Sunday, September 29
Game 1: Washington 95, Connecticut 86,
Tuesday, October 1
Game 2: Connecticut 99, Washington 87
Sunday, October 6
Game 3: Washington 94, Connecticut 81
Tuesday, October 8
Game 4: Connecticut 90, Washington 86
Thursday, October 10
Game 5: Washington 89, Connecticut 78, Mystics win series, 3-2