Professional Basketball

Mystics, Mercury Escape Elimination; Semifinals Winners Determined on Tuesday


The Washington Mystics and Phoenix Mercury both staved off elimination in their respective best-of-five WNBA semifinal series by winning at home on Sunday, pushing both series to a decisive Game 5 on Tuesday to determine who will go to the 2018 WNBA Finals.

Washington 97, Atlanta 76

Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne returned to the Washington lineup on Sunday after missing Friday’s game because of a deep knee bruise. Washington dominated in the second half to take a 97-76 win over the Atlanta Dream in front of an announced crowd of 3,722 at the Charles Smith Center on the campus of George Washington University on Sunday afternoon.

Washington Mystics guard Kristi Toliver scored 22 points as the Mystics defeated the Atlanta Dream in Game 4 of the semifinals on Sunday. Game 5 will be played Tuesday in Atlanta. File photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Both teams kept it close for most of the first quarter and the visiting Dream held a 10-9 advantage with 3:30 left on the clock. Washington gained momentum as they went on an 11-2 run to finish the quarter with a 20-12 lead.

The Mystics extended their lead to 13 points on a driving layup by Aerial Powers with 6:48 remaining in the half to make the score 30-17. Atlanta went on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to six, 40-34 with 2:00 remaining, but Washington extended their lead to double-digits again and went into the locker room leading 44-35 at the half.

The Mystics began the third quarter on an 11-2 run and pulled out with a 55-39 lead with 8:20 on the clock but could not put the game away. Washington led 72-61 at the end of the third.

Atlanta guard Tiffany Hayes hit a three-pointer with 8:36 remaining in regulation to cut the Dream deficit to single-digits, but Delle Donne answered with a jumper 19 seconds later. Washington led 74-64 with 8:17 to go.

Perimeter shooting kicked in for the Mystics, who then went on an 14-1 run with a three-pointer each by Delle Donne and guard Kristi Toliver, along with two treys by forward Ariel Atkins. Washington held a 90-67 lead with 3:49 remaining.

Atlanta head coach Nicki Collen substituted her bench knowing that there will be a Game 5 on Tuesday. When the final buzzer sounded, the Mystics won 97-76.

“Amazingly, we did a lot of things well tonight at the offensive end, we just didn’t guard, and guarding is a staple it is what got us to this seed and certainly what is going to propel us forward if we are going to come back and bounce back and get a win in Game Five,” said Collen. “I think it was a couple things: you can’t win a playoff game and shoot 50 percent from the foul line.”

Six Mystics players scored in double figures – Toliver (22), Atkins (19), Delle Donne (15), guard Natasha Cloud (13), forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (11) and center LaToya Sanders (10). Delle Donne led Washington with 10 rebounds and Toliver led the team with seven assists.

“It was a great win. It’s nice to see six people in double figures. I thought our bench gave us a big lift,” said Washington head coach Mike Thibault. “The only thing that’s kind of interesting to me is that their backup [forward] Monique Billings shoots 11 free throws and Elena Delle Donne shoots zero. I’m going to go figure that out.”

Four Dream players each had 12 points – forwards Brittney Sykes and Jessica Breland, along with guards Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery. Billings and guard Alex Bentley each contributed 11 points. Breland led the team with eight rebounds and Montgomery dished 10 assists.

“The plan in our mind was that she [Delle Donne] was going to play. We came in expecting her to play. Our prep and everything was for Elena to play,” said Montgomery. “She kind of sucks you in, but they caught fire in the third quarter. A lot of the shots were open we were helping, but a lot of times we are pros and if you give a pro an open shot, a lot of us can knock them in.”

Delle Donne finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in her first game back from the knee injury.

“We live to play another day. My knee feels awesome. Just rest, recover and get ready for the next one,” said Delle Donne. “Coming out of the half, that’s when you can kind of go into a little bit of a lull and relax, but to see us coming out that string and just know the importance of every single possession is so big for us.”

The series is tied 2-2 and now moves back to Atlanta’s McCamish Pavilion for the decisive Game 5 on Tuesday starting at 7 p.m. CT.

Phoenix 86, Seattle 84

The Phoenix Mercury overcame a 17-point deficit with a fourth quarter rally to keep their playoff hopes alive by defeating the Seattle Storm 86-84 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in front of 8,137 in attendance late on Sunday afternoon.

Phoenix Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner scored 27 points and pulled down eight rebounds as the Mercury squeaked out a victory over the Seattle Storm in Game 4 of the semifinals on Sunday. Game 5 will be played Tuesday in Seattle. File photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

The Mercury began the game on a 4-0 run on baskets by center Brittney Griner and forward DeWanna Bonner, but the Storm answered with a 17-4 run. When the first quarter ended, the Storm led 31-16 on 72.2 percent shooting and was a perfect 4-4 in three-point attempts.

Mercury guard Diana Taurasi brought a sense of urgency to the situation in the second quarter. Not only did she create offense for her teammates, Taurasi scored 10 points in the first half of the frame and cut the deficit to single digits. The score was 39-31 with 5:23 left in the half.

The Storm was faced with a monumental challenge a minute later. Guard Sue Bird was fighting through a screen and was accidentally elbowed in the face by her teammate, forward Breanna Stewart. Bird left the game to have her nose examined.

Seattle had difficulty fighting through the loss of their veteran leader, which forced rookie guard Jordin Canada to take over the helm. They managed to maintain a 53-42 lead going into halftime.

When play resumed, Seattle built a 16 point lead on a three-pointer by forward Alysha Clark with 8:26 left on the clock.

Then Seattle’s defensive woes kicked in when center Natasha Howard picked up her third foul at the 6:38 mark and her fourth foul a minute later when Bonner drove baseline for a layup. Bonner’s free throw cut the deficit in half giving Seattle a 61-53 lead with a quarter and a half to go.

Both teams traded baskets and the Storm began building a small cushion. Stewart hit a jump shot with 2:04 remaining in the quarter to bring the lead back to double digits, 69-57. It would be the game’s high water mark.

Phoenix made their run and pulled the deficit to five on a Taurasi three-pointer with 7.8 seconds left in the quarter. Seattle had a 71-66 lead going into the final frame.

The momentum had clearly shifted into the Mercury’s favor and Talking Stick Resort Arena erupted when Bonner hit a floating bank jump shot with 8:40 remaining to cut the deficit to one point, 71-70. It capped a 13-2 Phoenix run going back to the last two minutes of the third quarter.

Griner scored on a layup with 6:07 remaining to tie the score 76-76. It was the first time since the 4-0 run to begin the game that Phoenix had tied or led in the game.

A layup by Howard broke the Phoenix 12-0 run and had the Storm trailing 82-78 with 3:44 to go.

Just as it looked like the Mercury were going to close out the game, Mercury forward Camille Little was called for back-to-back fouls against Stewart. The first foul resulted in a sideline inbound but the second put Stewart on the line. She hit both free throws to make the score 84-82 with 1:15 remaining.

Griner missed a turnaround jump shot and then Howard hit a floating jumper in the lane to tie the score at 84-84 with under a minute to go.

On the next possession, Bonner missed a shot which was rebounded by Little. She dished the ball to Griner who connected on a hook shot with 14.1 seconds left, forcing Seattle to call timeout.

During the timeout, Bird, now sitting on the bench with a broken nose, rallied the team around her and drew up the final play in the huddle. The play went to Stewart who was too far under the basket to get a shot off in time.

Seattle, which had never lost two consecutive games during the season, now found themselves the losers of two playoff road games in a row.

“It was the same play we ran early in the game, to be honest with you, when Sue was in there,” said Seattle head coach Dan Hughes. “We had Stewie [Breanna Stewart] with the ball, we had her in good real estate. You wanted an attempt at that point but some of that got to do with the length. She was searching for it [but] we didn’t get it.”

Griner knew she had to play tough defense on the final play.

“I had just fouled Stewie on the three so I knew I had to do something to make it up. We knew the ball was going to Stewie at the end and that they were going to go to her to make a play. We just had to play defense, don’t foul, and try not to let her score, tie it up, and go to overtime,” said Griner. “We don’t want any overtime. It’s just one game. That’s what we did. She drove, I just stayed there, kept my hands up high, and she got underneath the goal. That was it basically.”

This was the fourth elimination game for the Mercury during this playoff run.

“We protected our house. That was our goal. It was a hard-fought game,” said Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello. “It went down to the wire like a few of those games have, but once again the fourth quarter was big for us. We’re just very excited that we get to play a fifth game. Obviously it’s on Seattle’s home court but we have played well away from home this year so we will go in there and put on a good showing and may the best team win.”

Griner scored 29 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, and Bonner added 27 points and eight rebounds. Taurasi led the team with four assists.

Seattle was led by 22 points and eight rebounds from Stewart, and 14 points and nine rebounds from Howard. Guard Jewell Loyd led the team with seven assists.

“We put ourselves in some tough situations, tried to make some tough plays. The ball got stuck a little bit and we became a little stagnant. I don’t think it stayed that way for the remainder of the second half or the fourth quarter. But those lows don’t help us when we play a team like Phoenix,” said Stewart.

The series is now tied 2-2 and reverts to Seattle’s KeyArena for a 9 p.m. CT tipoff time for the decisive Game 5 on Tuesday.



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