Sun continue first quarter trend of this WNBA Finals, hold off Mystics to force Game 5

Cassandra NegleyYahoo Sports Contributor
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/teams/con" data-ylk="slk:Connecticut Sun">Connecticut Sun</a> guard <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/players/4850/" data-ylk="slk:Jasmine Thomas">Jasmine Thomas</a> helped seal a Game 5 with free throws down the stretch. (USA TODAY Sports)
Connecticut Sun guard Jasmine Thomas helped seal a Game 5 with free throws down the stretch. (USA TODAY Sports)

A fascinating trend continued in Game 4, resulting in a winner-take-all final game of the series to determine the 2019 WNBA champions.

The No. 2 Connecticut Sun dominated in the first quarter en route to a 90-86 victory over the No. 1 Washington Mystics, to force a Game 5. They built from a 32-17 first-quarter lead, making it the fourth time in the series that the losing team put up 17 points in the frame.

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This time, though, the Sun watched an 18-point lead vanish and had to fight down the stretch to stay alive.

Game 5 is Thursday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 back in Washington at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Both teams are going for the first title in franchise history.

Sun won the first quarter, won the game

Connecticut, which finished the year 18-3 at Mohegan Sun Arena, came out faster and harder than their Game 3 loss while the Mystics looked steamrolled. They won the “hustle stats,” an asset they pride themselves on, and kept the heat as the Mystics struggled with their shot, going 6 of 20 in the first quarter.

“Pressure busts pipes and makes diamonds,” Courtney Williams told ESPN2 sideline reporter Holly Rowe at halftime and later repeated.

Williams returned from a rare quiet showing to score 14 of her 16 points in the first half for a sizable lead. They went into the locker room up, 56-40.

She secured a key rebound on a missed Mystics 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining to help ice the win. The guard had seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. Her presence on the boards alongside Jonquel Jones has been the key for the Sun in the series.

Jones had a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds. She was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line as the team overall shot 23 of 26 compared to the Mystics 10 of 13.

The Sun took note of what worked for the Mystics earlier in the series, threading it into their own hustle. Stricklen hit 3 of 6 3-pointers, including early shots that boosted the lead and momentum. Her open look midway through the first quarter was the result of talented ball movement that the Mystics are known for.

Mystics come back to take lead late

It had been a series of runs, but rarely any lead changes until the fourth quarter of Game 4. The Mystics came back from a 16-point halftime deficit, 56-40, and entered the final frame tied, 68-68. They took their first lead, 70-68, less than 20 seconds in.

Washington’s largest lead was five, but Jones and Jasmine Thomas tied it back up at 77-77 for the Sun. It was tied again at 81. Thomas hit a 3, followed by a tying shot by Meesseman, and the game-winning 3 by Stricklen, the All-Star Game’s 3-point champion.

The Mystics missed shots down the stretch and failed to secure rebounds. The Sun stiffened its defense and returned to controlling the boards the final two minutes.

Washington shot 47.1 percent from the floor and 47.6 percent (10 of 21) from distance, both more than the Sun, but lost on the boards, 39-29, and couldn’t quite overcome the early hole.

Aerial Powers scored 15 points off the bench to lead the Mystics. Ariel Atkins, who has been dealing with a back issue since late last week, scored 14 points. Natasha Cloud had 13 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and two steals. Emma Meesseman, the Mystics’ X-factor throughout the playoffs, had 12 points and five rebounds.

Kristi Toliver had seven points, all in the second half. Her first points came minutes into the third quarter and she hit two ensuing 3-pointers to help give the Mystics a tie.

Delle Donne, Alyssa Thomas play through pain

League MVP Elena Delle Donne looked better than in Game 3 as she deals with a herniated disc in her back, but still wasn’t her full force. She had 11 points while shooting 5 for 8 with five rebounds and two blocks.

While Delle Donne got the attention this week, she’s far from the only player hurting. The Sun’s Alyssa Thomas is playing with torn labrums in each of her shoulders and shot a tick below 50 percent from the free-throw line due to it.

She was an incredible 9 of 10 from the line in Game 4 and looked every bit a star as Connecticut forced what will be a thrilling Game 5.

“I’m trying to win a championship,” Thomas told Rowe during the broadcast. “This is a huge game for us. It’s about stepping up and being confident.”

She had a double-double of 18 points and 11 assists. She was two rebounds short of the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history.

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