The series between the Washington Mystics and Las Vegas Aces — and the other semifinals series, in some ways — has exemplified the best of postseason basketball. Sure, the top-seeded Mystics have (perhaps predictably) taken the first two games at home, including Thursday’s 103-91 win. But the fourth-seeded Aces, the biggest underdog left, haven’t gone away.
Even in a relative off night for 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (she even missed a free throw, the Mystics’ only miss of the night from the charity stripe), an unsung star emerged — the same star from Tuesday’s game, in fact: Emma Meesseman. And an unsung star emerged for the Aces, too — the same star from Tuesday’s game, in fact: Kelsey Plum.
“We knew winning on our homecourt was important.” @EmmaMeesseman talks about the significance of playing well and taking a 2-0 series lead! #WNBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/IVZtoAmt4P— WNBA (@WNBA) September 20, 2019
The Aces had an excellent game, too. Liz Cambage remained perfect on playoffs double-doubles with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Plum also recorded a double-double after just missing out last game, scoring 19 points and dishing 10 assists in Game 2. Jackie Young added 13 points and Tamera Young scored 10.
A’ja Wilson was held to eight points and seven rebounds.
But how did the Mystics emerge victorious against an Aces team that looks menacing now, and will only get more menacing once the series heads to Las Vegas this weekend?
The Mystics’ 97-point outing in Game 1 wasn’t bad at all, but it came courtesy of a 44.7% team shooting performance. Washington took 15 more shots than Las Vegas, but only got three more to fall.
In Game 2, though, while the Aces maintained their 50-ish% shooting, the Mystics improved to 52.1%. This time, the Mystics made smarter shot choices, including not taking every possible opportunity to shoot the three, and ended up taking two more shots than the Aces, but making three more.
WE STAY BREAKING RECORDS— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 20, 2019
1️⃣0️⃣3️⃣ POINTS = MOST IN FRANCHISE PLAYOFF HISTORY#RunItBack #TogetherDC pic.twitter.com/lG3PKOE3tW
Also, a handful of players improved from Game 1. While Meesseman shot less efficiently overall, she made five 3-pointers (more attempts than she took on Tuesday) on her way to a game-high 30 points. Natasha Cloud had an 18-point, 11-assist game at over 50% shooting, while LaToya Sanders shot a whopping 70% en route to 17 points.
Delle Donne still managed a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double, but at 33.3% shooting, it’s both disappointing to see and scary to think about what could happen if she has an MVP-caliber game while the rest of the team is playing like this.
Key halftime adjustments
The third quarter was a turning point for the Mystics in a handful of ways. After playing very unlike themselves in the first half, making just two 3-pointers and turning over the ball more times than Tuesday’s entire game, they needed to come out of halftime stronger.
So, they made four 3-pointers, three from Meesseman and one from Kristi Toliver, who finished with two of them. As for turnovers, they limited themselves to one for the rest of the game.
As is their penchant to not go away quietly, the Aces grabbed a series of three-point leads in the third quarter. But the last five minutes were all Mystics, who closed out the frame on a 19-5 run. They went on to lead by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Meesseman only got better
The last time Emma Meesseman saw a 30 next to her name in the WNBA, it was 2017 regular-season game in Atlanta. It wasn’t in Game 2 of the semifinals, and it definitely didn’t follow up a 27-point outing.
.@EmmaMeesseman WENT. OFF.— WNBA (@WNBA) September 20, 2019
A #WNBAPlayoffs career-high 30 PTS for the @WashMystics forward in the win! pic.twitter.com/rSyqDueSaq
Half of those came from three-point distance.
Not only did Meesseman make more 3-pointers in Game 2 than she took in Game 1, she also made more in Game 2 than the Aces did as a team. As Meesseman said postgame, “I know that when you kind of have the hot hand, just keep shooting. That’s what I did.”
The continued double-teaming of Delle Donne, in spite of her off night, helped Meesseman find more open opportunities. And if the Aces don’t figure out how to manage both Delle Donne — who, after Thursday, seems due for a big game — and Meesseman — who they can’t afford to ignore — they could find themselves on the wrong end of a sweep in Sunday’s Game 3 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2).