Mystics hit 16 3-pointers against Sun in Game 3 to move to brink of WNBA title

Cassandra NegleyYahoo Sports Contributor
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/teams/was" data-ylk="slk:Washington Mystics">Washington Mystics</a> center <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/players/5182/" data-ylk="slk:Emma Meesseman">Emma Meesseman</a> hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to put away a game 3 victory. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Washington Mystics center Emma Meesseman hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to put away a game 3 victory. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The No. 1 Washington Mystics started the afternoon with all five starters on the court for Game 3, a surprise given the week they’ve had, and ended it with a single victory standing between them and their first championship in franchise history.

The Mystics hit 16 3-pointers, tying the finals record, to go one-up on the No. 2 Connecticut Sun with a 94-81 victory at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. They lead the series, 2-1, with Game 4 at Mohegan on Tuesday.

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Washington got league MVP Elena Delle Donne back despite a herniated disc in her back. They were also with Ariel Atkins, who suffered a back injury Thursday evening. “Missing piece” Emma Meesseman did her thing again in the fourth quarter, drilling back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers for the Mystics to set off the final push.

Deep shot lifts Mystics

Washington was lethal from behind the arc, and there was little the Sun could do to stop it, even with solid defensive coverage. They Mystics shot 16 of 27 from 3-point range (59.3 percent), including 6 of 9 in the first quarter to take a lead they never relinquished.

Delle Donne, Meesseman and Kristi Toliver were perfect from range until 7:07 left in the game, when Delle Donne missed her only shot of the night. Combined they were 10 of 12 on 3 -pointers.

Delle Donne had had 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 3 of 4 from range, with six rebounds over 26 minutes.

Meesseman had 21 points off the bench and shot 3 of 4 from range. She made all of those attempts in the final quarter, a play she’s made previously in these playoffs. Toliver had 20 points with 10 assists, the third player to do so in WNBA Finals history, and was a perfect 4 for 4 from behind the arc. She shot 7 of 9 overall with clutch makes as the Sun came within range.

Natasha Cloud added 19 points and was 5 of 10 on 3-pointers. Overall, she shot 6 of 16, a window into the Mystics game plan to back ahead in the series. They hold the record for 3-pointers in a game at 18, set in August, and are the most efficient offensive team in history.

On the flip, the Sun had a tough night from the floor. They went 5 of 20 from range (25 percent) and shot 47.8 percent overall. Courtney Williams scored six points and missed seven of her nine shots. She was one of the most effective Connecticut players in the first two games of the series. Williams was also absent on the boards with four.

Jasmine Thomas and Shekinna Stricklen each had 16 points for the Sun. Alyssa Thomas had 13 and Bria Holmes had 15 off the bench. Jonquel Jones was also ineffective, scoring nine points with nine rebounds after a dominant Game 2 with Delle Donne out.

The team was outrebounded, 34-27, and that was a starker difference early in the contest. It allowed the Mystics to take and hold the lead, confidence and momentum.

Mystics ride confidence from Delle Donne

It felt like the start of an entirely new series Sunday morning with a five-day layover, an environment shift to the larger Mohegan Sun Arena and the No. 1 team being without two of its starters, including the best player in the league. Sun head coach Curt Miller told reporters, per The Athletic, he was concerned his team would come out too hyped-up.

It was the Mystics, riding late notice that Delle Donne felt good enough after warm-ups to play, who tore through the opening 10 minutes en route to a lead. They blew out the Sun in a 32-17 first quarter, going on a 12-0 run that ended with a minute left, and controlled shots and the glass.

Washington went 6 of 9 on 3-pointers while the Sun struggled from anywhere on the court, but particularly from behind the arc. They missed all four shots and multiple layups while getting out-rebounded, 10-4.

Kristi Toliver told ABC sideline reporter Holly Rowe it was big to have Delle Donne and Ariel Atkins in the starting lineup after it seemed likely neither would play at all.

“That just instills confidence in the team with their presence alone,” she said.

Delle Donne gave fans another scare when she checked out of the game at the 5:13 mark along with three fellow starters and headed immediately for the locker room. Per later word from the Mystics, it was part of the larger plan. Delle Donne went back to the locker room to stretch and stay loose while she wasn’t on the court. She played with a large brace around her midsection.

“I just want to be a leader for this team,” Delle Donne told Rowe after the game. “I did nothing; I was just on the court. And they carried me. They did that all season long.

“It was tough. Yeah, this is tough. This is not something I expected. But it is what it is. You’re dealt the cards, you just got to get out and play.”

The veteran looked in pain running the floor and struggled through a dribble-drive, her first of the game, late in the fourth quarter to break a Sun run. Connecticut had a handful of solid comebacks, but never broke through.

Sun runs come within one, but Mystics never break

The Sun battled back with their own 12-0 run late in the second quarter to come within two points. The run was broken with a buzzer-beating floater by Toliver after she juked off the defender and slid underneath. Washington went into the locker room with a 43-39 lead.

The Sun came within two when Stricklen got the and-1 then later a 3-pointer, both bringing down a sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena. Delle Donne and Cloud hit 3-pointers in answer to drive the lead back up to seven.

The Sun made another run in the fourth quarter to make it close. They trailed, 71-57, going into the final 10 minutes and fell behind by 18 points shortly into the quarter with 3-point bombs by Meesseman. The Sun were within 10, 84-74, with 3:29 to play but never came closer as Mystics free throws sealed it.

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