Professional Basketball

Mystics Take Game 4, Head to WNBA Finals

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Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud prepares to run the offense while Las Vegas Aces guard Kayla McBride defends during Tuesday night’s WNBA Semifinal Game 4 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Photo by Jean Suppa/Sportspage Magazine.

Following Sunday’s decisive Game 3 semifinals win, Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage had some advice for Mystics forwards Ariel Atkins and Elena Delle Donne along with center LaToya Sanders.

“They’ve got small forwards guarding me. If they can’t handle it, get in the weight room or get out of the post. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing my thing inside,” said Cambage.

That was the rallying cry that the Mystics used to outlast their series opponent 94-90 to win the series on Tuesday in front of 6,175 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. With the win, Washington earned their second consecutive trip to the WNBA Finals, which begins on Sunday.

Both teams knew what was at stake when the game began. The first quarter saw three tied scores in the first six minutes of play followed by pull up jump shot by guard Kelsey Plum which broke the tie with 3:24 remaining in the quarter. After a missed shot by Sanders, which the Aces rebounded, came the official timeout.

At that point, when Tamera Young and Dearica Hamby entered the game, the Aces began their surge. Hamby scored the game’s next four points on two consecutive layups, followed by an assist and a rebound. The Aces were on a 10-2 run, which was broken by a Delle Donne three-pointer with 56.2 seconds left in the quarter. Las Vegas led 26-17 at the break.

The Aces continued to keep their momentum going through the midway point of the second quarter. With 4:50 remaining in the half and the Aces maintaining a 39-29 lead, Washington played error-free ball. They had no turnovers in the last eight minutes of the second quarter, and finished the half on a 16-4 run and a 45-43 lead at the half.

The third quarter opened with a three-pointer by Washington guard Kristi Toliver in front of the Aces bench, which just inspired the home team to play harder. They drew to a 50-50 tie with 8:14 remaining in the quarter.

Toliver, a veteran of many several series in her career, went on a streak of her own scoring seven of the next ten Mystics points resulting in 60-53 Washington lead with 5:26 remaining in the third.

With their backs up against the wall facing elimination, Las Vegas closed out the quarter on a 15-7 run of their own. Plum and Hamby each scored five points during that period and the Aces held on to a 68-67 lead at the end of the quarter.

The teams traded baskets to begin the fourth quarter and were knotted up at 72-72 with 8:35 remaining. It would be the last tied score of the night.

Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne drives againt Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby during Tuesday night’s WNBA Semifinals Game 4 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Photo by Jean Suppa/Sportspage Magazine.

Delle Donne and center Emma Meesseman took over. Meesseman scored 13 points and Delle Donne added nine in the quarter, which combined for 22 of the team’s 27 points in the frame.

Cambage tried to keep the Aces in the game with nine points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Washington’s 4-for-9 from beyond the arc during the quarter, though Las Vegas did cut the deficit to one point on two occasions.

With 50.6 seconds remaining, Meesseman blocked a Cambage layup attempt which seemed to put an exclamation point on the game, even though Washington only led by a point, 89-88.

Still, the Aces kept it close. Hamby had an opportunity to tie the game with 5.0 seconds left, but missed on a three-pointer from the corner.

Hamby threw up a final running 55-foot shot as time expired. The shot did not go in, nor did she get fouled. Washington took home the 94-90 victory and will go on to the WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun.

“Disappointing, obviously, we like to win our home games. Go on to Game 5 and see who wins but that didn’t happen. I told our players to hold their heads high because we are growing. I don’t think this was a brutal loss. I have been in brutal losses before and this wasn’t even close to a brutal loss,” said Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer.

“We got beat by a basketball team that out executed us. They played very well. We made some mistakes and every time that happened they made us pay. And we had our normal bugaboo’s of too many turnovers. I was a little bit disappointed in our defensive breakdown in the fourth quarter. The game was being decided and they got the same looks as they got in Game 1 and Game 2 with no one on them and they made the shots. That’s just what they do,” he added.

Following the game, Mystics guard Natasha Cloud went to half court, surrounded by her teammates, and did some pushups as a means of mocking Cambage’s comments about the weight room.

Meesseman admitted that Cambage’s remarks were a motivating factor for her team’s performance.

“I think actions speak more than words. We were already motivated after last game. I thank you for giving us more motivation. This is what we needed,” said Meesseman.

Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage shoots over the outstretched arms of Washington Mystics center LaToya Sanders during Tuesday night’s WNBA Semifinals Game 4 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Photo by Jean Suppa/Sportspage Magazine.

Delle Donne and Cambage both scored 25 points to lead all scorers. Meesseman and Toliver chipped in 22 and 20 for the Mystics respectively, while Hamby and Plum added 18 and 17 for the Mystics. Cambage led all rebounders with 12 and Hamby added 11. Cloud and Sanders each had six boards to lead the Mystics.

Washington shot went 36-for-76 (47.4 percent) from the field and 13-for-30 (43.3 percent) on three-point attempts. Las Vegas was 35-for-75 (46.7 percent) from the field and 7-for-17 (41.2 percent) from beyond the arc. Washington converted 9-of-10 free throw attempts while Las Vegas went 13-for-14 from the charity stripe.

“My hat’s off to Las Vegas. This was a terrific series. They played great. They’re going to be a great team for a long time. My compliments to their organization, and for everything they do first class,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault.

“Everybody talks about Elena Delle Donne, all the offense things she does and the MVP award. I’m a little surprised the MVP didn’t shoot a free-throw in the second half. I think her defense tonight was a huge factor in this game, it was pretty much a one-on-one matchup with A’ja Wilson, who is a terrific young player. Elena stepped up on both ends of the floor which was a huge key for us tonight,” said Thibault.

Despite making the exit from the playoffs, the Aces players knew that this would be a learning experience no matter how far they made it in the bracket.

“They have a lot of experience playing together. They have been together for a while. This was our team’s first playoff experience. We are very inexperienced as a whole. These are the times when you learn from your mistakes, and you learn and get better, and prepare for the next season,” said Aces guard Tamera Young.

Said Cambage, “This season has been a learning experience and this is the first time I’ve ever been sad the season is over. I’m not ready to go home. I love this team. I love my teammates, love this city, love the staff, here at the Aces.”

For the Mystics, there is one more series to finish.

“Get our bodies back, take tomorrow off, get back in, watch film, get some shots up, and really pick a part of what we really need to do for Connecticut,” said Cloud. “They’re a really good team. AT [Alyssa Thomas] is leading them. They got a full team of all-stars. A team full of people that at any moment they can put up thirty. We have to really prepare on the defensive of end and allow our offense come from our defense.”

Rest will be important, as well as a focus on their final opponent.

“I told them all they can rest tomorrow, the next few days, and in November. But we have to get through this,” said Thibault.

Game 1 of the WNBA Finals between the top seeded Washington Mystics and second seeded Connecticut Sun tips off at 2 p.m. CT at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.

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