Professional Basketball

2019 WNBA Finals: Mystics Take Game 1

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Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne shoots over the outstretched arms of Connecticut Sun center Brionna Jones during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 1 in Washington. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Washington Mystics used a 10-3 run to open the first quarter of WNBA Finals Game 1 and finished the same quarter on a 12-0 run, which gave enough separation in order to take a 95-86 victory over the Connecticut Sun in front of 4,200 at Washington D.C.’s Entertainment and Sports Arena on Sunday afternoon.

The game opened with a three-pointer from Mystics forward Ariel Atkins which was answered by a trey by Connecticut guard Courtney Williams a short time later. It was the game’s only tie.

Atkins hit her second basket, and then teammates Kristi Toliver and Natasha Cloud helped push the Mystics to a 7-0 run, which was answered by a three-pointer by Connecticut center Jonquel Jones. With 6:45 remaining in the first quarter, Washington had jumped out to a 10-6 lead, and league MVP Elena Delle Donne had not scored a single point.

Delle Donne scored the next five points for Washington, followed by another trey from Atkins, making the score 18-10, when Connecticut began a run of their own. A 17-foot pullup jump shot from Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas, followed by Williams’s second three-pointer and a driving layup by Alyssa Thomas suddenly made it an 18-17 game with 3:21 remaining in the quarter.

Then the Sun stalled and the home team dominated for the rest of the quarter. The Mystics used two jump shots from LaToya Sanders, a running layup from Cloud, a fade away shot from Emma Meesseman and a driving bank shot by Toliver to close out the quarter on a 12-0 run and take a 30-17 lead.

Connecticut opened the second quarter with a 14-foot turnaround fadeaway shot by Jones, and then Washington’s Delle Donne hit two free throws, making it 32-19.  Then it was the Mystics turn to stall.

Morgan Tuck hit on a bank shot, Alyssa Thomas scored two layups and a free throw, and suddenly after a 7-0 run the Sun deficit was down to six, 32-26 with 7:42 remaining in the half. The teams traded baskets and small runs for the rest of the quarter. Washington held a 55-46 lead at halftime.

The first half was all offense. The Mystics shot 63.6 percent from the field including 6-for-11 from beyond the arc. Connecticut shot 60.6 percent from the field including 4-for-9 in three-pointers. There were 19 total rebounds in the half – 10 for Connecticut and nine for Washington.

The second half was much like the first, except neither team scored for the first minute and a half. Toliver made two free throws and a three pointer, which sparked a 12-4 Washington run and enabled the Mystics to take a 17-point lead, their largest of the night. It was 67-50 with 5:33 remaining in the third quarter.

Once again, the Sun made up some ground of their own, a 7-0 run, and cut the deficit to ten points, 76-66 by the end of the quarter.

The deficit was cut to seven when Williams hit a three pointer to start the fourth quarter, and then to six when Sun forward Shekinna Stricklin hit a three-pointer after a hook shot from Washington’s Emma Meesseman.

After Powers missed a three-pointer for Washington, Alyssa Thomas drove the court in transition and ran into Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins with 7:42 remaining in the game. Referees Roy Gulbeyan and Cheryl Flores each blew their whistles and called fouls. Gulbeyan called it a charge and Flores assessed a block. After a referee’s conference, a double foul was assessed on the play, which resulted in a jump ball at center court.

The Sun pulled to within four points on two occasions, but it would be the closest they got in the series first game. Washington went on an 11-2 run to put the game out of reach. The Mystics won 95-86.

“Obviously being 1-0 in the series is a great thing. I suspect that both coaches will be meeting with their teams tomorrow and telling them a lot of things. You could have done this better, you could have done that better, take care of the ball, don’t turn it over,” said Mystic head coach Mike Thibault. “I felt both teams made some mistakes. First game is kind of feeling it out and deciding how somebody is going to play you. I thought we adjusted fairly well to how we were going to be played.”

Connecticut Sun guard Courtney Williams shoots from the perimeter as Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne defends during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 1 in Washington, D.C. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Connecticut’s Courtney Williams led all scorers with 26 points, with Alyssa Thomas adding 20 for the Sun. Washington was led with 22 points from Elena Delle Donne and 21 from Ariel Atkins.

“When we get stops and we get running, we’re a tough team to guard,” said Williams. “I think we’ve just got to do more of that. We’ve got to get out and we’ve got to run and we’ve got to push the pace.”

Delle Donne led all rebounders with 10, Thomas and Jonquel Jones each pulled down six rebounds for Connecticut.

“I thought the first quarter killed us,” said Sun head coach Curt Miller. “Over the last three quarters we outplayed them and outscored them. But we dug ourselves in a hole and we were always trying to climb out of it.”

The Mystics shot 54 percent on 34-for-63 shooting including 10-for-21 in three-pointers. Connecticut shot 48.5 percent, the team’s best post-season performance this season, on 33-for-68 shooting and 9-for-23 for three.

Toliver moved into a sixth place tie with Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird in the WNBA’s all-time post-season three-pointer list with 82. She needs three more to tie former Mystics guard Kara Lawson’s fifth place finish of 85.

“It’s the first game of the Finals. Whether we were here last year or whatever, it’s still a big moment,” said Toliver. “I think we had a couple bonehead mistakes and we were able to – the good thing is we were able to clean it up and get better in the second half. We know valuing the basketball is a key to winning a ring. We’re very mindful of that, and moving forward that will continue to be a major point of emphasis for us.”

Game 2 of the 2019 WNBA Finals will be held Tuesday night at 7 p.m. CT at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. It will be broadcast on ESPN.

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