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2019 WNBA Semifinals Analysis (Game 1): Mystics win after contentious finale, but Aces prove they won’t go away quietly

The top-seeded Washington Mystics defeated the Las Vegas Aces 97-95 on Tuesday night in a game that was much harder-fought than many may have anticipated.

Las Vegas Aces v Washington Mystics - Game One
Emma Meesseman (left, with ball) and Elena Delle Donne (right, with mask) combined for 51 points in the Mystics’ defeat of the Aces on Tuesday night.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Every time the Washington Mystics opened a lead, the Las Vegas Aces closed it.

If Elena Delle Donne or Emma Meesseman sank a shot, A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage had an answer.

Whenever Kristi Toliver came off the bench in her first game since Aug. 8, Kelsey Plum proved her continued worth off the bench.

In the end, it was no wonder it came down to the final shot — or the final missed foul call, or the final missed screams for a timeout, depending on your view of the game — before the top-seeded Mystics could claim the 97-95 victory.

Despite the fact that this game inexplicably began before the conclusion of the previous game, meaning the game’s entire ESPN2 audience missed the first three-and-a-half minutes of play, it quickly became clear there at least a full game’s worth of action in the remaining time.

As ever, the Mystics began by taking three-point shots at every opportunity. But although some were falling — more than the Aces had taken in total, at some points — most weren’t. This allowed the Aces to get inside and make two-pointers, or at least draw fouls: The Aces ended 18-for-22 at the free throw line compared to the Mystics’ 10-for-10.

Despite their early (relative) struggles from three, the Mystics’ two biggest scorers combined for just three of the team’s 11 three-pointers, finding their success elsewhere. Meesseman finished with 27 points, a career-best for the playoffs and her highest total all season, and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. Delle Donne scored 24 points to go with six rebounds and a team-high six assists.

Even still, the Aces were able to find their stride. Wilson led the team with 23 points, Cambage added 19 points and 12 rebounds and Kayla McBride added 19 points of her own.

Plum was huge for Las Vegas, scoring 16 points on 60 percent shooting to go with nine assists. She was also tasked with making the game’s final shot, and opted to try to draw the foul off Delle Donne:

Even before Plum’s shot, Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer was calling for a timeout to set up a play. But the potential foul wasn’t called, the timeout wasn’t called and the game ended.

Whichever way the arguments go, the fact remains that the Mystics have a one-game lead and another home game on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) before the series moves to Las Vegas on Sunday.

But with the way the Aces fought on Tuesday, this fact probably doesn’t comfort the Mystics as much as it could have.