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Analysis: Mystics earn first-ever Finals bid, Storm finally get emphatic win to join them

The teams will meet in the WNBA Finals beginning Friday in Seattle, but in the meantime, here’s how they got there.

A joyful Storm team celebrates a Game 5 semifinals win over the Phoenix Mercury in Seattle on Tuesday Sept. 4, 2018.
Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images

In two hard-fought semifinals series, it all came down to a pair of Game 5s that saw two teams with injured stars find a way to make magic happen.

Mystics sneak past Dream as another competitive game delivers

The Mystics beat the Dream 86-81 in a game that featured 14 lead changes and 9 ties, sending Washington to its first-ever WNBA Finals. Here’s how they did it.

Kristi Toliver-Elena Delle Donne pair return to top quality

In spite of Delle Donne’s injury and Toliver’s cold shooting of late, the two stars found a way to get it together when it counted most. Although they shot just 40.6 percent combined, their 33 total points came at clutch moments, including Toliver’s 3 three-pointers and Delle Donne’s continued dominance from the free throw line, as she made all four of her attempts to stay perfect for the playoffs.

But it wasn’t all about these two Tuesday night, because…

Need a third scorer? How about two?

Rookie Ariel Atkins was on fire all night, leading the Mystics in scoring after the first quarter and leading all scorers with 20 points to finish things off. Not only was Atkins key, though, but Tianna Hawkins also contributed 17 points off the bench on 75 percent shooting, including 3-of-4 from three. Although Delle Donne’s quick return from injury has ended up being rather successful, she’s clearly still not where she was in Games 1 and 2, which meant other players needed to step up, and they did.

Even still, though, Delle Donne still managed to leave her mark on the game...

Delle Donne made history (because of course she did)

With 14 points and 11 rebounds, Delle Donne became just the second player in WNBA history (after Lisa Leslie) to open a postseason with five straight double-doubles.

Although it initially appeared in Game 4 that much of Delle Donne’s contributions post-injury could come from rebounding and assisting rather than scoring, she reminded everyone that she’s one of the best in the league by not only returning after just a single-game absence, but excelling in spite of her injury. The Mystics have shown that they need her badly in order to win games, and with yet another history-making performance, Delle Donne doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

Storm turn the tables, use big fourth quarter to take care of Mercury

Until Tuesday night, it was the Mercury with the massive fourth-quarter advantage against the Storm. But instead of Diana Taurasi running the show to close out Game 5, it was her fellow longtime veteran and close friend Sue Bird acting the hero, leading to a 94-84 Seattle victory. Here’s how it happened.

Seattle’s short bench came through

Although the Storm normally play with a longer bench, rotating in lower-minute players like Courtney Paris and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with more frequency, Tuesday night saw the team rely primarily on Sami Whitcomb and Jordin Canada, almost matching up with the Mercury’s six primary players. While Canada had some trouble with turnovers early on, Whitcomb was hot, ending her night with 11 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds, including going 2-for-3 from three. Canada did eventually collect herself, scoring 7 points in her 8 minutes of play, including a clutch three in the fourth quarter to give Seattle its first lead of the night.

Speaking of that fourth quarter…

Storm take notes from Mercury to produce big fourth-quarter comeback

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Phoenix had a 47-point advantage in the fourth quarter in Games 1-4 combined. But Seattle was having none of that in Game 5, outscoring the Mercury 35-21 in its highest-scoring quarter of the playoffs. All five lead changes took place in the fourth quarter as the Storm came back from what was once an 11-point deficit to win by 10, helped immensely by Sue Bird’s 14 fourth-quarter points and the last of Breanna Stewart’s game-high 28 points. After a third quarter in which Seattle seemed to be in shambles, a surprise fourth quarter turnaround was just what this team needed.

But, back to Bird…

Sue Bird is not here for your face-grabbing

“I’m sure you saw me get upset when she knocked my mask off, because that hit down onto my nose and then it started bleeding, but otherwise, it’s fine.”

Regardless of whether a foul should have been called on that play, Bird did work in this game, scoring 14 of her 22 points in the final six and a half minutes of the game, draining threes, basically winning a jump ball against the 6-foot-4 DeWanna Bonner to regain possession and even ripping off her face mask in frustration after the aforementioned scuffle. In the same way that Taurasi ignited Phoenix’s offense in previous fourth quarters in this series, Bird did the same for Seattle here, almost single-handedly bringing Taurasi’s unbeaten streak in winner-take-all games to an end. Now, Seattle gets to play in the Finals for the first time since 2010.