All D.C. sports does these days is win. With an 86-81 triumph over the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday in the decisive Game 5 of their WNBA semifinal series, the Washington Mystics advanced to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. The Mystics, who had won exactly one playoff round in their 20-year existence before last season, will take on ageless Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm in a best-of-five series beginning Friday in the Pacific Northwest. Three more wins would give D.C. its first professional basketball title since the NBA’s Bullets outlasted the Seattle SuperSonics in a seven-game series 40 years ago.
“That’s why I came to D.C., to make history,” Mystics guard and former Maryland star Kristi Toliver said after scoring 19 points in Tuesday’s win at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta. “To me it’s very special. It’s special to do with this group of people. We just have a great locker room. It’s an exciting time to be a D.C. fan, and I’m glad I’m on the winning side of it right now.”
Even if you haven’t watched a minute of Mystics basketball this season, here are four good reasons to jump on the bandwagon before Friday’s Game 1:
1. Elena Delle Donne would like your support.
Delle Donne, the 2015 league MVP, was acquired from the Chicago Sky after the 2016 season and helped transform a franchise that had enjoyed only one winning season in the six years after finishing atop the Eastern Conference in 2010. The Mystics went 18-16 last season, but were swept in the WNBA semifinals by the Minnesota Lynx. This year, Washington tied a franchise record with 22 wins during the regular season, including eight in their last nine games.
The Mystics blew out the Sparks in a single-elimination second round playoff game and appeared poised to take a two-games-to-none lead against Atlanta when Delle Donne’s left knee buckled on a drive late in the fourth quarter of Game 2. The Dream came back to win, but Delle Donne didn’t suffer any ligament damage. A nasty bone bruise forced Delle Donne to sit out Game 3, another Atlanta win, which put the Mystics’ backs against the wall.
Thanks to a rigorous rehab schedule, Delle Donne returned for Game 4 and had 15 points and 10 rebounds in a 21-point Mystics win. On Tuesday, she gritted her way through the most important game in franchise history despite clearly not being anywhere near 100 percent.
“I absolutely adore my teammates,” Delle Donne said after joining Lisa Leslie as the only players to open the postseason with five straight double-doubles, according to ESPN Stats and Information. “I knew that if I came out here and did whatever I could, they would take care of the rest. They carried me on their back the whole game.”
Now Delle Donne, who turned 29 Wednesday, would like D.C. sports fans to throw their support behind the Mystics.
“D.C.’s become home to me,” Delle Donne told ESPN. “Now we need the city to really rally behind us, because we’re not finished yet.”
2. Ariel Atkins is the real deal.
One of the teammates who helped carry Delle Donne and the Mystics in Game 5 was Ariel Atkins. The rookie out of Texas continued her impressive postseason run with a game-high 20 points on 6 of 14 shooting.
“I was nervous before the game, just because I love it, I have a passion for it,” Atkins said afterward. “But we’ve got some vets on the team that I can look to them. I don’t have to be everything in the world. I get to look to them and lean on them a lot. They really help me.”
“My goodness did Ariel Atkins step up for us,” Delle Donne said. “She is not a rookie.”
“She’s about the most poised rookie I’ve ever been around,” Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault said.
3. Winning championships shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Who has it better than Ted Leonsis right now? The Monumental Sports & Entertainment CEO has been on a serious championship heater over the last three months. First, the Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. In July, the Leonsis-owned Washington Valor won the Arena Football League title, despite a 2-10 regular season.
The ongoing renovations at Capital One Arena better include more space in the rafters for all the banners that need to be hung. Said renovations will force the Mystics to play their home games during the WNBA Finals at George Mason’s EagleBank Arena, but the team will provide complimentary round-trip shuttle service between the Vienna Metro station and the arena.
“Everyone is happy for the @WashMystics franchise!” Leonsis, who also owns the Mystics, tweeted Wednesday. “Players, staff, coaches, Mike Thibault and his family, but I know they aren’t yet satisfied. Moving on to the Finals for the first time in team history is fantastic, but we all want to win a ring.”
D.C. went 20 years without the Capitals, Redskins, Wizards or Nationals making an appearance in the conference finals. Now a third title in three months is a real possibility, D.C. United is making a late playoff push and the Nats … well, at least you’ll be spared the mid-October disappointment this year. Go ahead and book the Capital City Go-Go as G League champs now.
4. The more the merrier.
The Mystics were the talk of D.C. sports Twitter for a time on Tuesday night, which hasn’t often been the case. Die-hard fans celebrated at the Game 5 watch party at the Greene Turtle at Capital One Arena, while Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Redskins rookie running back Derrius Guice were among those who congratulated the team on Twitter. As with the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run, and to a much lesser extent with the Valor, the deeper a team gets in the playoffs, the more casual observers tend to pay attention. The Mystics likely made some new fans on Tuesday. They should pick up a lot more over the next three-to-five games.
Read more from Post Sports: