Professional Basketball

WNBA Finals: Jones Runs Over Mystics in Game 2 Connecticut Win

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Heading into the second game of the best-of-five WNBA Finals series, the Washington Mystics knew they had the momentum and home court advantage. Exiting the game, the Mystics knew they were heading to a Game Four and concerns about forward Elena Delle Donne’s availability for the rest of the series, following a 99-87 Connecticut Sun win in front of 4,200 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night.

Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones scores on a layup during Tuesday’s WNBA Finals Game 2 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Jones had 32 points and 18 rebounds and helped Connecticut even the series 1-1. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Connecticut Sun knew they had to come out strong from the start in order to avoid facing elimination in a 3-0 series sweep and force a Game 4 and center Jonquel Jones came up big in the Connecticut effort.

The teams kept it close in the opening minutes of the game. Connecticut had a 7-6 lead when Mystics guard Ariel Atkins missed on a pull up jump shot with 6:32 left in the quarter. Delle Donne then motioned to the bench and left the game going immediately to the locker room for evaluation. Forward Emma Meesseman replaced Delle Donne in the lineup for the remainder of the game. The Sun took advantage of the situation and center Jonquel Jones stepped up. By the end of the quarter, the visiting Sun had a 29-17 lead.

The Mystics were not going to go down easily. They began the second quarter on a 9-2 run and quickly cut the deficit in half. With 6:55 remaining in the half, the Sun led 34-28. By the 5:17 mark, the Washington bench outscored the Connecticut bench by a 20-0 margin.

The Sun went on a 9-0 run with Bria Holmes scoring seven of her nine points during four of the next five possessions to extend their lead to 11 with 3:24 remaining in the half. This was answered by a 7-0 Mystics run to keep it from slipping away. Connecticut took a 56-46 lead at the half as Jonquel Jones tied a WNBA Finals record with 10 rebounds in the first half.

The third quarter began much like the first, with both teams trading baskets. Neither side was willing to give an inch to the other.

Connecticut held a 69-57 lead with 5:28 remaining in the third quarter when Sun forward Alyssa Thomas fouled Meesseman putting the Washington forward on the free throw line. After converting both free throw attempts, Mystics center LaToya Sanders stole a pass from Sun guard Jasmine Thomas, who then fed it to Meesseman for a three-pointer.

Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman attempts a long-range jump shot over Connecticut Sun guard Alyssa Thomas during Tuesday’s WNBA Finals Game 2 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. Meesseman led her team with 23 points and 8 rebounds off the bench. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

It sparked a 12-4 Mystics run to end the quarter. Meesseeman scored five points in the run and Aerial Powers scored the other seven. Connecticut led 73-69.

The fourth quarter began with an increase in intensity, which favored the home team. The Mystics were able to quickly overcome the four point gap and tie the score at 76-76 with 8:14 remaining in the game on a five-foot running bank shot by guard Kristi Toliver.

However, Toliver missed all three shots on Washington’s next three possessions which were all answered by Connecticut, who threatened to put the game away.

The Mystics hung around until 3:01 was left on the clock when Sun guard Courtney Williams nailed a three-pointer to give Connecticut a 91-85 lead. Toliver responded with a failed 15-foot jumper, which Jonquel Jones answered with a three-pointer to extend the lead to nine with 2:17 left and put the game out of reach.

The game ended in a Connecticut Sun 99-87 victory which evened the series 1-1 and guaranteed a Game 4 to be played next Tuesday in Connecticut.

“I thought our defense was terrible in the second quarter,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. “We held them to 17 points in the third quarter, and we held them to 17 points in the third quarter. We looked like our Mystics team defensively, but we couldn’t sustain it to the end.”

Jonquel Jones led all scorers with 32 points and 18 rebounds. Meesseman led Washington with 23 points and 8 rebounds. Washington outscored Connecticut 52-9 from the bench.

“Big win for us tonight. Proud of that group. They brought to the table as players some adjustments that they wanted to make from Game 1 to Game 2. We fed off their confidence and belief to make some subtle adjustments that worked for us tonight,” said Sun head coach Curt Miller. “I don’t think we were shy talking about we had to play through J.J. [Jonquel Jones] more. We got her shots in the first quarter. She went and created a lot of her own offense, even when we weren’t playing through her, and that was just huge for us for second opportunities.”

Jones went 13-for-24 in field goal shooting, 3-for-7 from beyond the arc, 3-of-4 from the charity stripe, grabbed 18 total rebounds (9 offensive/9 defensive), and added three blocked shots to her statistics.

“I think I just got on the offensive glass a lot and that allowed me to really get everything else going,” said Jones. I felt like in Game 1 I was in good position [for second chance points] but these people weren’t missing like that, so it was tough. I don’t know what else to say.”

Toliver has been in championship series before and knows that this is a long season.

“We will regroup. We will bounce back. This team is not in any type of panic mode at all. We feel very confident because of who we are as a team and what everybody brings,” said Toliver. “We know where their advantage is, and that was points in the paint, and that was rebounding the basketball offensively. We clean up those two areas, this can be a very quick fix for us.”

Of course the basketball world will be talking about the status of Elena Delle Donne whose status is uncertain after being diagnosed with back spasms. With four days between games, the Mystics are hoping that she’ll be able to make a full enough recovery to play in Game 3, even though nothing is certain at this point.

“She’s juts had kind of ongoing, late in the season, just tightness, and we’ve been able to treat it. It’s responded pretty well and she’s been okay,” said Thibault. “But it’s the one nightmare I’ve had for the last month is seeing her lying on her back. I watched that in 2015 when she was in Chicago, and it wasn’t a good sight for them, and it wasn’t a good sight for me now. I don’t even know what to tell you about it right now other than it is an injury and we’re going to figure it out.”

Miller knew the Mystics would still be tough even with Delle Donne’s absence.

“We have such great respect for Tianna [Hawkins]. We have such great respect for Emma [Meesseman], and what Kristi Toliver – I coached Kristi Toliver my first year in the league, and I know as a leader what she can do and put teams on her back herself,” said Miller. “We didn’t need to address anything. We know how talented they are. A credit to Delle Donne’s health this year and her well-documented strength addition. But this franchise has played stretches without her before. So we knew that we weren’t going to get an easy break just because she was out.”

With the series tied 1-1, Game 3 will be played Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena broadcast on ABC with tipoff scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT.

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