Professional Basketball

WNBA Finals: Mystics Win Championship; Meesseman Named MVP

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After 22 full seasons of play, the Washington Mystics finally secured their first championship trophy in team history when they downed the Connecticut Sun 89-78 in front of a sellout crowd of 4,200 during WNBA Finals Game 5 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. on Thursday night.

Washington Mystics players Kristi Toliver and Emma Meeseman hug at the conclusion of the decisive WNBA Finals Game 5 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. The Mystics won their first WNBA championship there Thursday. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Unlike the previous four games where the winner of each game was determined at the end of the first quarter, it was not the case in Game 5 as the game was much closer than that.

Neither team was willing to give an inch during the first quarter as there were four ties and three lead changes. Connecticut led by as many as five when forward Shekinna Stricklen nailed a three pointer with 6:32 remaining in the quarter to give the Sun an 11-6 advantage. 

The Mystics erased that deficit and then pulled their largest lead of the quarter when forward Emma Meesseman hit an 18-foot jumper with 1:22 on the clock. This was promptly answered by a layup by forward Morgan Tuck. Meesseman then scored on a cutting layup. Washington had a 23-19 lead with 51.0 seconds left in the quarter.

The second quarter was just as much of a battle as the first. Seven ties and three lead changes occurred as both teams kept the game close.

Mystics guard Kristi Toliver was fouled by Sun guard Jasmine Thomas while scoring on a finger roll layup to begin the quarter. Toliver converted the free throw and the Mystics held a 26-20 advantage.

Sun guard Bria Holmes was fouled by Meesseman and then connected on a 17-foot fast break pullup jump shot. Forward Alyssa Thomas stole the inbounds pass from Meesseman and then made a hook shot to tie the score 26-26 with 8:40 left in the half.

For the rest of the half, there would be six more ties and neither team led by more than three points. Connecticut led 43-42 at the half.

Despite missing most of third quarter, Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones still scored a game high 25 points in WNBA Finals Game 5 Thursday at the Entertainment and Event Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The teams traded runs in the third quarter. Connecticut started the second half on a 10-2 run with was capped by a cutting layup by center Jonquel Jones with 6:44 left on the clock. The Sun led 53-44.

On the next play, Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne scored on a layup and was fouled by Jones. Delle Donne hit the free shot to make the score 53-47. More importantly, however, was the fact that Jones picked up her fourth foul and sat the rest of the quarter on the bench.

As Jones exited, Meesseman substituted for center LaToya Sanders and then went on a scoring streak of her own. Meesseman scored 11 points in the quarter on 4-of-5 shooting and 3-of-4 from the charity stripe.

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas partially compensated for Jones’s absence. Thomas scored seven points on 3-for-3 shooting with one free throw during the quarter. Like Meesseman, all of her scoring was done after Jones left the game.

The teams tied twice in the third quarter which ended with Connecticut hanging on to a 64-62 lead.

Sun guard Bria Holmes was called for a defensive three seconds call 25 seconds into the final frame. Delle Donne missed the technical shot, but the Mystics scored the next five points with a three-pointer by guard Natasha Cloud and a layup by Delle Donne. Jones, back in the game, connected on a 14-foot turnaround jumper with 8:37 on the clock with Washington leading 67-66.   

Stricklen scored on a cutting layup and then Jones made a put-back layup to give the Sun a 70-67 lead with 7:02 left in regulation.

Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman attempts to block the shot of Connecticut Sun guard Courtney Williams during Thursday’s WNBA Finals Game 5 at the Entertainment and Event Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

It was all Washington from there. The Mystics went on a 13-2 run through the middle of the final frame and took an 80-72 lead on a short step through jumper in the paint by Meesseman at the 2:54 mark.

Even though there was still enough time for the Sun to go on a last run, a six point deficit is the closest they would come. The Mystics converted 7 of 9 free throw attempts in the last two minutes.

The Sun continued to play strong until the very end. Guard Courtney Williams put up a three-point shot with 23.5 seconds left that was rebounded by Delle Donne. She dribbled across the timeline, as the Sun chose not to contest.

With 12 seconds left on the clock, Delle Donne dropped the ball and hugged Cloud near midcourt while the remaining seconds of the game played out. Other Washington players began hugging their teammates on the court. When the time ran out on the clock, the Mystics won the game 89-78 and secured their first ever championship.

“I’m just so happy for all these players and the organization who bought into what I was selling seven years ago, that there was a path to get out of what was a pretty desperate time here,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. “And if people would buy in, the path would get accelerated. I think one of the best things about this team is the camaraderie and the family atmosphere on this team. They love each other.”

Even having missed most of the third quarter, Jones led all scorers with 25 points. Alyssa Thomas added 21 points for the Sun, led all rebounders with 12 and dished out a game high 6 assists. Jasmine Thomas also had 6 assists for the Sun. Courtney Williams was the only other Sun player in double-digit scoring with 16.

Washington Mystics forward Aerial Powers defends against a shot by Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas during Thursday’s WNBA Finals Game 5 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“It stings right now,” Sun head coach Curt Miller admitted. “Proud of that locker room. From the moment training camp started we never shied from that and handled the pressure. They fought through these moments the entire season and put themselves in an unbelievable position to win their first championship.”

The Mystics were led by 22 points from Meesseman and 21 from Delle Donne. Toliver and Cloud each scored 18. Delle Donne grabbed 9 rebounds to lead the Mystics, while Toliver led her team with 4 assists.

“All I said before the game to the team was ‘regret nothing.’ And you guys take it from there,” said Toliver, the only player for either team that has a championship ring (2016 with the Los Angeles Sparks). “What was different? The people are different, obviously, and I love these people. You know, everybody says you’ll never forget your first. I’ll never forget my first, but this one with these guys and the relationships that I have with them, I love them. These guys are my family. I would do anything for them.”

The Mystics shot 50.0 percent from the field on 33-of-66 shooting and 4-of-19 in three pointers. They were 19-for-24 from the free throw line.

“It feels phenomenal,” said Delle Donne regarding winning the championship. “But my goodness, this feels so good. It’s hard to even put it to words, but to win this and win this with such a great group of people, I think that’s what makes this so special. We’re going to remember this season because we were around such incredible people, and we absolutely adore being together.”

“I’m kind of sad, like the season is about to be over. I’m going to miss everybody, but my goodness, we sure ended this on a high note,” Delle Donne added. 

Connecticut shot 45.1 percent on 32-of-71 shooting, including 2-for-12 from the three, and went 12-for-17 from the charity stripe.

“I think we asserted ourselves and wanted to make ourselves known in this league, not just as individuals but as a team,” said Jasmine Thomas. “You know, we have taken pride in team basketball all season. We’re a close group. We really care about each other, and sitting next to these two women up here [Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas], with who hard they work and how special they are, they’re two of the most talented people I’ve ever played with. So it hurts that we couldn’t win this championship for them, but I think we’ll always remember this team.”

“I think going forward, we know what we’re capable of. We know we can be back here, and we’re just – it hurts right now but I think we’ve done – we have a lot to be proud of,” she added.

Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman was named the 2019 WNBA Finals MVP. She averaged 17.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, one steal and one block per game during the Finals series and 21.6 points per game during the playoffs. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Meesseman was named the MVP of the WNBA Finals series. She averaged 17.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, one steal and one block per game during the Finals series and 21.6 points per game during the playoffs. Meesseman, who scored in double figures off the bench in every game of the Finals, is the first Belgian to ever win Finals MVP, and just the second non-American. Seattle Storm center Lauren Jackson, an Australian, won the award in 2010.

“I just really, really wanted to win this game, so I just came on the court and I knew that it was a moment that we needed some energy,” said Meesseman. “I was just going at the basket and it was going in, so I just kept going. Coach has been talking about, if your shot is going in, or even if not, you just have to take your opportunity. I don’t think that I would have done this a year ago or two years ago in the past. I think that these playoffs were the moment that I really realized that I have to take my responsibility and I can play. So that’s just what I did. But it’s really not something that I would have done the past few years.”

The 2019 WNBA Championship is not just special for the players, but for Thibault. He has led teams to the WNBA Finals on three previous occasions but, until this season, had yet to win a championship.

“I turned and looked at my staff, Eric [Thibault] and Marianne [Stanley] and Maria [Giovannetti] and all those guys down there and all the work that they’ve done behind the scenes,” said Thibault. “I felt great in that moment because that’s not what everybody sees. It’s all the glamour part that everybody sees… I thought about all of the little things that have to go into putting the team together and how happy I was for that whole group.”

“And I was looking at fans who I’d seen since the day I came here. I looked across the way, there were people sitting in the front row who had been there since I came here, and to see the joy on their face – that’s what this is all about. We’re an entertainment business, but entertainment and all that satisfaction was incredible.”

The 2019 WNBA Finals will be one to savor as the league heads into its offseason with the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players having expired.  

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