What do you think of when someone says “perfect playoff game”?
A winner-take-all scenario, the result of a season’s worth of work evident for the victor at the final buzzer. The best players on both teams playing their hearts out, including the regular-season MVP. Another player, perhaps overlooked, underrated, or just having a breakout postseason, bringing it home. The losing team knowing why it is losing — the game not coming down to a lucky buzzer-beater or a golden goal to override past mistakes. Someone overcoming a horrendous injury, or a team avenging a loss somewhere in their past, and maybe it all ending with a first-ever title.
Meet your 2019 WNBA champion Washington Mystics.
The Mystics defeated the Connecticut Sun 89-78 on Thursday night, the fourth season in a row that the WNBA MVP’s team has taken home the ultimate prize. In 2018, Breanna Stewart led the Seattle Storm to victory; in 2017, Sylvia Fowles did the same for the Minnesota Lynx; and in 2016, the Los Angeles Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike guided her team all the way.
In 2015, the league MVP didn’t guide her Chicago Sky to a championship, but it was still a familiar face: Elena Delle Donne. That was her first MVP win — 2019, of course, is her second.
And, boy, did Delle Donne deliver in these Finals. It wasn’t revealed until after the game that she’d been playing with three herniated discs, not just one, but still she scored 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds and finished a near-perfect 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. Kristi Toliver and Natasha Cloud also had monster games, scoring 18 points apiece, with Cloud making all three of her fourth-quarter shots.
The Mystics had been using accurate free-throw shooting to keep them in close games. After the Sun put together a stellar 23-for-26 performance from the stripe in Game 4, the Mystics turned things around on Thursday and went 19-for-24 themselves.
Washington also relied heavily on the three-ball, most notably in Game 3’s record-tying outing where they made 16 from beyond the arc. But in Game 5, the three was nearly nonexistent on both sides — the Mystics made just four of them, while the Sun made two, both in the first half.
Certainly, that was one big reason the Sun maintained a lead in the first three quarters. Although the scoreline was frenetic at times — the game’s 15 ties and nine lead changes eclipsing the number of ties and lead changes in the rest of the Finals combined — the Sun had some measure of control over the game, at least from the start.
POPPIN’ CHAMPAGNE LIKE WE WON A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME pic.twitter.com/94kqWMOVA5— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) October 11, 2019
No series goes the distance without a willing opponent, and the Sun were the best possible one. From stealing Game 2 in Washington, D.C. to welcoming the Mystics to Uncasville with a sold-out crowd — to making clutch buckets and creating key mismatches and being tricky and frustrating on the biggest stage, as they had all season long — the Sun truly gave it their all.
Keeping the same starting five healthy and effective all year is extremely impressive, and between Courtney Williams’, Jonquel Jones’ and Alyssa Thomas’ production — especially in this game, where they combined for 62 points — the race for a Sun Finals MVP would have been fierce.
Thomas also had the game’s only double-double, 21 points and 12 rebounds, torn labra and all.
But in the end, the Mystics’ depth won it for them. So definitively, in fact, that Emma Meesseman was named Finals MVP after coming off the bench in every game. In Game 5, she scored a Mystics-high 22 points on 69.2 percent shooting.
To Mystics fans:
Congratulations! Your team ran it back all the way to the championship!
To Sun fans:
What a series. What a competition. And, most importantly, what a talented, impactful group of players. If the roster can stay even somewhat intact, it seems like this team can only get better next season.
Now, it’s time for a collective exhale.
The players did it! We, the fans, made it! Another WNBA season is in the books, which means we* have a regrettably long offseason to get through before the Mystics’ title defense season begins.
This might be a weird way to end things here, but let’s give the last word on this matter to the Atlanta Dream. Because no matter what position they’re speaking from, they’re absolutely right:
Congrats @WashMystics— Atlanta Dream (@AtlantaDream) October 11, 2019
Remember, tomorrow we are all tied for first place! See you in 2020.
* The fans — not the dozens of players who are headed overseas to join their other teams so they can keep this professional basketball thing profitable.