Mystics coach Mike Thibault on facing Sun in WNBA Finals: 'Hope they're done being disrespected'

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
ATLANTA, GA  JUNE 23: Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault talks with his team in a time-out during the WNBA game between the Atlanta Dream and the Washington Mystics on June 23rd, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault is seeking his first title against the team he used to coach. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DisrespeCT. Find out what it means to the Connecticut Sun.

The mantra has been the fuel to the Sun’s postseason, not that the No. 2-seeded team needed any more reason to keep winning beyond the regular season. Which is the entire point: This Sun team is good, but arguably didn’t get the attention it deserved and now is even more motivated because of it. DisrespeCT, with a focus on the CT for Connecticut, has taken over the Sun’s social pages and irritation at being called a team of “role players” has leaked into postgame interviews.

The top-seeded Washington Mystics, the WNBA’s most efficient offense in history, and head coach Mike Thibault know this motivation can’t be overlooked. He noted it to reporters Friday. Via Lindsay Gibbs of The Athletic:

The WNBA Finals begin Sunday at 3 p.m. between the Mystics and Sun. Ahead of the best-of-five series, a look at what Thibault means in regards to the Sun and his past with the organization.

Sun ‘role players’ ride disrespect to final

The Sun finished with the second-best record in the WNBA, but were looked past in the postseason conversation for more spicier options. The Mystics have long held the title of favorites. The Las Vegas Aces, once they acquired center Liz Cambage ahead of the season, joined in the favorite race. The Los Angeles Sparks had experience — though not at the coaching level — the Chicago Sky were hot coming into the playoffs and the reigning champion Seattle Storm and 2010s dynasty Minnesota Lynx couldn’t be counted out.

It left the Sun in the dust, leading to a Sept. 14 post that started it all.

That led into the fuel that the Sun were a mere bunch of “role players” with no real star to take the lead. That fire erupted when the Sun media team put together a video from Jasmine Thomas’ appearance on ESPN2 to discuss the second-round games.

That’s not a shot fired. It’s a cannon.

The Sun reached their first final since 2005 and are going for the first title in franchise history. While they lack the accolades of other teams, their play this season is undeniable. They are the first team to start the same five players every game of the season, continuing it into postseason play. The core group, which has been building to this moment, played 250 more minutes than any other lineup in the league, per the WNBA. Four of their starters averaged double-digits in the regular season and the fifth missed by one point per game.

The hashtag #disrespeCT has found its way to apparel, and Courtney Williams has used postgame interviews to mock the “role players” mention. It’s no wonder Thibault is hoping that unquantifiable aspect has disappeared as the Mystics also go for their first WNBA title.

Thibault seeks first title against team that fired him

Thibault was the coach who led the Sun to their last WNBA Final in 2005 after the franchise’s first appearance in 2004. He was a two-time coach of the year there with a 206-134 regular season record and only two seasons of missing the playoffs over 10 years.

Thibault told ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel this week that first finals team wasn’t ready to win. And the next year, they were without point guard Lindsay Whalen, who later went on to win titles with the Lynx.

The Sun let Thibault go in 2012 after the team bowed out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals (the league changed postseason structure in 2016). Connecticut had a 1-0 lead, but lost it to the Indiana Fever and Tamika Catchings. The Fever beat the Lynx in the finals and Catchings won MVP.

"It was actually a breath of fresh air," Thibault said, via ESPN. "The situation in Connecticut had played itself out. This was a chance to build kind of from scratch."

Thibault moved on to the Mystics, who have made the playoffs six of seven years. They acquired Elena Delle Donne in 2017, an MVP with the Sky who wanted to be closer to family and earned her second selection this season. She became the first WNBA player in the 40/50/90 club.

The Mystics were swept by the ferocious Storm in the final last year and cruised through the regular season en route to what they hope is a different ending in 2019.

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