Professional Basketball

Mystics, Storm Fend off Rivals in Game 1

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The first game in each of the two WNBA semifinals series are now in the books as the visiting Washington Mystics downed the Atlanta Dream on Sunday mid- afternoon and the Seattle Storm held off a late charge by the visiting Phoenix Mercury in Sunday’s late afternoon game.

Here is a recap of the day’s action.

Washington Mystics 87, Atlanta Dream 84

The visiting Washington Mystics used a 32 point, 13 rebound effort by forward Elena Delle Donne to take Game 1 of the first game of the best-of-five WNBA semifinal game by a score of 87-84 on Sunday afternoon in front of an announced crowd of 5,086 at Atlanta’s McCamish Pavilion on Sunday.

Delle Donne: Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne scored a game-high 32 points during the Mystics 87-84 semifinal Game 1 win over the Atlanta Dream on Sunday. File photo by James Garman/Sports Page Magazine

After trading baskets to start the game, the Mystics found separation early jumping out to a 24-16 lead with 2:57 remaining in the quarter. Atlanta answered with an 8-0 run and tied the game 24-24 on a three-pointer by guard Alex Bentley.

The Mystics went on a 16-6 run in the second quarter to take a 42-32 lead with 4:37 left in the half, but again, the Dream would not go away. The Dream took a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to three with 1:12 remaining in the quarter. Still, the Mystics took a 51-42 lead into the halftime break. Washington made seven of their 14 shots from beyond the arc during the first half.

Washington’s lead was never in jeopardy in the third quarter, though Atlanta pulled within four when forward Monique Billings was fouled with 1.5 seconds left in the quarter on a put-back after guard Renee Montgomery missed a three-pointer. After Billings free throw, the Mystics led 70-66 going into the fourth quarter.

Bentley opened the scoring for the Dream with a layup just 19 seconds into play in the game’s final frame which cut the deficit to two, but this was promptly answered with a driving layup from Delle Donne.

From there, it was a story of two players, Washington’s Delle Donne and Atlanta guard Tiffany Hayes, who each willed their team to win. Hayes scored 11 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter. Delle Donne matched Hayes’s performance with 11 points of her own.

When the final buzzer sounded, Delle Donne’s Mystics took the first game of the series by a score of 87-84 withstanding a hard final charge by the Dream.

Delle Donne finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds. Bentley led the Dream with 19 points and center Elizabeth Williams led all rebounders with 14. Washington hit all 20 of their free-throw attempts and was 11-26 from beyond the arc. Atlanta connected on 16-22 free throws and 6-21 in three-pointers.

“We know that 35 percent of their shots are 3s. We talked about making them go two-by-two-by-two,” said Dream head coach Nikki Collen. “We closed out too short on a number of them. We’ve got to be high hands, a little tighter. I’m not sure you that won’t, in some ways, see a more energized team on Tuesday night as we battle back out of a hole.”

Regarding her effort in the Dream’s comeback attempt, Hays said, “I knew they needed me, they needed everybody, but we started to come together on defense but that’s what always drives me to be better on offense and then we became stronger in the fourth quarter.”

The Mystics are no stranger to competitive semifinals as they played the Minnesota Lynx in a hard fought series last season.

“We made it interesting at the end. You have the feeling that the series could look like this the whole way,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. “You have two highly intense defensive teams. The scoring was big early, but then it turned into a defensive battle down the stretch. We’re going to need to shoot the ball better going forward, and give them credit for working their way back into the game.”

The Dream and Mystics face off for Game 2 in the best-of-five semifinal series on Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT at McCamish Pavilion.

Seattle Storm 91, Phoenix Mercury 87

A week of rest may have made the difference for the Seattle Storm may have been a key factor in their success in their semifinal matchup against the Phoenix Mercury. The Storm fended off a late Mercury challenge and won their contest 91-87 in front of an announced crowd of 9,686 at KeyArena also on Sunday.

Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP, scored 28 points to lift the Storm over the visiting Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of their semifinal series on Sunday. File photo by Chuckarelei/Sports Page Magazine

The Phoenix Mercury played two grueling playoff games already, the first at home and the second at Connecticut in the course of a week, and then traveled to Seattle.

“No excuses. No excuses,” said Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, who started off the scoring with a three-pointer just 10 seconds into the game. “This is what these games are about, who can stay poised and execute, they did a much better job of that. It’s a five game series and we will be ready to go win the next one.”

In fact, the first half was all about perimeter shooting. In just the first 4:28 of play, both teams combined for 6-for-9 shooting from the perimeter and were 11-for-19 in three-point shots by the end of the first quarter, and a combined 18-for-35 from beyond the arc in the first half.

Seattle forward Breanna Stewart, who was just named the league’s most valuable player for the 2018 season, scored 19 points in the first half and finished the game with 28. Seattle led 54-50 at the half, which ended with Taurasi getting called for a technical foul.

Stewart began the third quarter by hitting the free shot on Taurasi’s technical foul, and then center Natasha Howard scored seven points in the first half of the quarter, enabling the Storm to take a 70-54 lead with 4:57 left in the third. It capped off a Seattle 16-4 run in the quarter.

The Mercury managed to cut the deficit to 12 points, making the score 79-67 going into the fourth.

Taurasi led Phoenix on a 13-5 run since checking back in the game with 6:30 left in regulation. She hit a three-pointer and then passed to forward DeWanna Bonner who was cutting in the lane for a basket. Seattle’s Stewart missed two short jumpers near the basket on their next possession, giving the Mercury an opportunity to surge ahead.

Mercury center Brittney Griner, who played most of the second half in foul trouble, missed a layup with 1:42 left on the clock, got her own rebound and the put back to tighten the score to 89-87.

Storm forward Alysha Clark missed on a three-pointer with 1:17 left, but Stewart grabbed the rebound to extend the possession. Guard Jewell Loyd hit a pull up jumper with exactly one minute left to extend the Storm lead to four. That would turn out to be the game’s final score as Phoenix guard Briann January missed a three pointer, and Taurasi missed two shots in the final minute of play.

“It was a good ball game for us. You’re off a week and you wonder. I would expect us by the second half to have some rhythm but I wondered what we would find in the first half,” said Storm head coach Dan Hughes. “To me, I felt like we did a pretty good job of getting into the rhythm of the game. We’re glad to get back in to playing with rhythm.”

The Storm was led by 28 points by Stewart, 23 from Loyd and 20 from Howard. Guard Sue Bird dished out 10 assists and Stewart led the team with seven rebounds. Seattle’s bench only contributed to four points in the effort.

“We just didn’t stop. We didn’t freeze when things got tight. Playing Phoenix, you know that they are always in the game, no matter if it’s a two-point game or a ten point game, they have the opportunity to come back and win,” said Stewart. “We made some hustle plays that gave us multiple possessions, especially the one where Jewell [Loyd] hit that big shot. That was huge.”

Phoenix was led by 27 points from Bonner, who also led all rebounders with 11, and 25 points from Taurasi. Griner, battling foul trouble, was limited to 13 points, four rebounds and five assists in the outing.

“Those first two minutes [of the third quarter] were like a track meet. We’re our own worst enemy sometimes and our emotions get up. Some of the foul calls we just weren’t happy about, but it is what it is and we have to try and stop the runs that Seattle has. That’s the biggest thing for us,” said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello. “In the third quarter, we did, but it took us awhile. In the fourth quarter, we were able to change the momentum of the game and make it a little closer. We know we need to be better. If we want to beat Seattle on their home court, we

need to be better.” Taurasi also discussed the third quarter lapse and how it gave the Storm an advantage.

“That third quarter is always crucial. I think that every team comes out of the half wanting to play well, and they just executed that a little bit better,” said Taurasi. “We turned the ball over, we didn’t get great shots. When you do that, it puts you at a disadvantage. In that third quarter they showed why they are the best team in the league all year.”

The teams combined for 23 made three-pointers on 58 attempts in the contest.

The Storm host the Mercury for Game 2 on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. CT at KeyArena.

 

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