The Washington Mystics are just one game away from winning their first title in franchise history after claiming a 94-81 road victory over the Connecticut Sun on Sunday in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.
Emma Meesseman scored 21 points while Kristi Toliver poured in 20 to lead Washington to a 2-1 series lead over Connecticut.
Injured Delle Donne Provides Spark
Elena Delle Donne, back in the lineup after missing almost the entirety of Game 2 because of back spasms, added 13 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes.
“Her presence alone, whether she’s 100 percent or 10 percent, just instills confidence in the rest of the group,” Toliver said after the game. “And she showed a lot of character and showed a lot of heart just being out on the floor today because she’s obviously not feeling great…but it means the world to us and the rest of the team for her to be out there today.”
Delle Donne’s presence did seem to lift the Mystics, even if other players carried the bulk of the scoring burden. Washington came out of the gate hot, taking a 15-point lead after the first quarter.
“All three games have been decided in the first quarter, essentially,” Sun coach Curt Miller said afterwards. “There hasn’t been a close first quarter in this series yet.”
While the Sun cut that lead to four at halftime, Washington survived the Connecticut run.
Sun Now in Must-Win Situation
The Sun were led by Shekinna Stricklen and Jasmine Thomas, who each scored 16 points, while Bria Holmes scored 15 more. Jonquel Jones was relatively quiet on the night, scoring just nine points while collecting nine rebounds.
According to Miller, just having Delle Donne on the floor was enough to mess with Connecticut’s defensive rotations. Even if they knew the WNBA MVP wasn’t at 100 percent, the Sun couldn’t afford to ignore her on the court, providing opportunities for the other Washington scoring threats.
“You can’t rotate off the best player in the world,” Miller said.
If Connecticut thought there was a chance that Delle Donne was only on the floor for inspirational purposes, a la Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA Finals, those hopes went away after she made a couple of early shots.
“She made that first one, and you could sense the crowd [become deflated],” Mystics coach Mike Thibault told reporters. “I’m sure [Miller] still thinks I was messing with him. He’ll put out all the Pinocchio GIFs he was talking about. I literally did not know she was going to play until like 35 minutes before game time.”
With a 2-1 lead in the series, the Mystics are again the heavy favorites to win the WNBA Finals. FanDuel Sportsbook lists Washington as a -600 favorite to win its first championship, while the Sun are a +400 underdog to come from behind and take the final two games of the series.
Game 4 of the WNBA Finals is scheduled for Tuesday night in Connecticut.