Washington survived one winner-take-all Game 5, what's one more?
The WNBA season will come to a championship crescendo on Thursday night, as the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun battle each other in a showstopping Finals finale (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Both sides have exchanged wins thus far in a thrilling series, including the Sun's 90-86 victory in Tuesday's Game 4 in Uncasville. It set up this final showdown at Entertainment and Sports Arena in our nation's capital.
Washington and Connecticut topped the league standings at the end of the season, so this series has featured the two best teams in the league battling back and forth. The Mystics nearly erased an 18-point deficit on Tuesday to earn their first title, but clutch triples kept the Sun alive and the trophy in storage.
What can you expect tonight?
Elena Delle Donne Will Be Elena Delle Donne
Like Alex Ovechkin before her, a D.C. legend is closing in on the lone accolade left off their sports resume: a professional championship. No one will be more excited to see this season end than Delle Donne. For the second consecutive season, she's reached the Finals, but an injury (back spasms) has sidelined her.
If this magical season for the Mystics -- who set several WNBA records en route to a 26-8 regular season mark -- must come to an end, they'll need one more big victory on the biggest stage. Delle Donne is still fighting back but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I wanted to win it in four...But I think it's great for the league," she said on Tuesday. "It's great for fans. It's great to get more people excited about our game. So for that, I'm grateful. I think this has been quite the series, and people better be tuning."
The 1st Quarter Will Be Big
Seventeen is quite the number, and holds significance in WNBA history. For example, Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault is searching for his first WNBA title in 17 years. WNBA legend and current New York head coach Katie Smith scored 17 points in earning her first WNBA title in 2006's Game 5 as a member of the Detroit Shock. More recently, the losing team in this series has scored 17 points in the first quarter of every game.
Washington was able to make up an early deficit and make things interesting on Tuesday. But that brutal first frame -- where the Sun led 31-17 -- set the tone for a sour evening in D.C. You can't win the game in the first quarter, but Thibault certainly hinted it was a place where Washington coughed up their championship opportunity.
"(We let) them have four offensive rebounds in the first quarter. They got to the free-throw line. We had a couple turnovers. We had some empty possessions. I felt we did about everything we could do wrong in the first quarter," he said after the game. "I thought our team is known for passing and cutting and screening. It's not known for having 15 dribbles per possession. I thought that's what we did in the first quarter."
The Title Goes To...
The Washington Mystics.
Washington is a team of destiny. Such dominance hasn't been seen since the heyday of the Houston Comets and their four-title run in the early days of the WNBA. Adversity has been big for the Mystics, but they've pulled through.
The key for Washington will be to play as a team. It's great that Delle Donne is the MVP, but when their talented full roster rises...those like 2018 absentee Emma Meeseman, defensive specialist turned outside shooter Aerial Powers, and Washington Wizards assistant coach Kristi Toliver...that's when the Mystics run away with games.
It's great that the Sun -- fresh off countless single-elimination defeats and trading former top pick Chiney Ogwumike -- have made it here. They've been anything but subtle in calling out their doubters (the team has run on a slogan of "DisrespeCT"). But right now, it just seems foolish to go against the mighty Mystics, especially with DC running on good sports karma right now.
Prediction: Mystics 78, Sun 71