Professional Basketball

WNBA Finals: Delle Donne’s Return Lifts Mystics to Game 3 Victory

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Washington Mystics guard Kristi Toliver scored 20 points in their Sunday win over the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA Finals Game 3 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Washington Mystics spent a good portion of this past week uncertain to the future of their superstar MVP forward Elena Delle Donne, who sustained back spasms during Tuesday’s WNBA Finals Game 2. An MRI revealed that she has a herniated disk that is pinching a nerve in her back.

Yet when the Mystics and Sun players took to the floor Sunday for Game 3 of the WNBA Finals best-of-five series, Delle Donne was fit enough to be inserted back into the starting lineup.

That alone was the lift needed for the Mystics to find early separation en route to a 91-84 road win over the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena in front of 9,170 spectators and take a 2-1 series lead.

The Mystics are known for being nearly unstoppable when their perimeter shooting is hot, and Sunday was no exception. They made six of their nine attempts from beyond the arc in the first quarter, including one from Delle Donne, to take a 32-17 lead in the first quarter.

The visiting Mystics led 37-23 with 5:58 remaining in the half when the Sun finally responded. Sun guard Alyssa Thomas scored seven points during a Connecticut 16-4 run that brought them to within four points at the half.

The Sun began the third quarter where they left off, pulling to within one point of the Mystics twice. Then Washington found separation and put the game away. It was 68-57 at the end of the third.

Mystics forward Emma Meesseman had the hot hand in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter which put the game away for good. The Mystics took the 94-81 Game 3 win to lead the series 2-1.

“Obviously it’s a terrific win under all the circumstances. The good start really helped us because we weren’t very good in the second quarter,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. “But after the second half I thought we played more like we did in the first quarter.”

Meesseman led all scorers with 21 points. Washington guard Kristi Toliver added 20 for the Mystics. Connecticut was led by 16 points each from guard Jasmine Thomas and forward Shekinna Stricklen.

“I think we played poorly offensively at times. We shot nearly 50 percent. We have nearly identical field goals again. We more than double them in points in the paint, which is important for us in the way we play,” said Sun head coach Curt Miller. “I thought we got a little sped up again, similar to Game 1, where at the back end of plays, when Washington takes your first option away. I thought we did a good job playing through the paint.”

Delle Donne scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, 3-of-4 beyond the arc, and grabbed six rebounds in 26:17 of play.
“Clearly she helped us with the rebounding, and I think just overall her ability to just spot up – her shot is so efficient that even if she’s hurting, that part of her game is so compact that that was the least part affected by the injury. It was all the other stuff. And she’s got some guts,” said Thibault. “I did not know anything until about 35 minutes before game time [on whether she would play]. Basically the plan was ‘let’s see how it goes, sub for her every four, five minutes to try to get her a breather’ because I didn’t think her wind was going to be there.”

Delle Donne was thankful for the four day break between games.

“We have a really great medical staff, phenomenal doctors, great trainers, so they’ve been working on me for five days straight,” said Delle Donne. “And we really didn’t know if I was going to be able to go today because I hadn’t done anything until right up before the game.”

Connecticut Sun’s Bria Holmes hits a layup during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Connecticut center Jonquel Jones led all rebounders with nine, while Aerial Powers led the Mystics with eight.

“Well, obviously film for us, rehab, recovery, making sure that our bodies are right, I think that’s the main thing,” said Jones regarding what Connecticut needs to do to get ready for Game 4. “Just going back, not panicking. We’re a team that’s in this situation for a reason. We’re not going to panic. We understand that. We’re just as capable of getting hot and winning games as they are.”

The Mystics tied a WNBA Finals record set by the 2007 Phoenix Mercury with 16 3-pointers in a single game. The team shot 50.7 percent from the floor and 59.3 percent from 3-point range. Washington outrebounded Connecticut 34-27 after being dominated on the boards, 41-27 in Game 2.

This was the first Finals game at the Mohegan Sun since they went to back-to-back in 2004 and 2005. That team was led by current Mystics coach Mike Thibault, who spent 10 years in Uncasville before being fired in 2012.

Game 4 of the WNBA Finals is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. It will be broadcast on ESPN2.

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