“Clearly, she helped us with the rebounding, and I think just overall her ability to just spot up — her shot is so efficient that even if she’s hurting, that part of her game is so compact that that was the least part affected by the injury,” Mystics Coach-General Manager Mike Thibault said. “It was all the other stuff. And she’s got some guts.”
Delle Donne did not participate in basketball activities all week in an effort to get her ailing back to a manageable state for Game 3. She had 13 points and six rebounds
and made 3 of 4 three-point attempts. Starting guard Ariel Atkins also played despite experiencing back spasms that Thibault said began Thursday night.
Delle Donne clearly wasn’t her usual self — her movement was severely limited, and she was far more hesitant to take shots than usual — but her presence and perimeter scoring were critical in a win that teammates Meesseman, Kristi Toliver and Natasha Cloud dominated.
“I came in here, I saw her mask and I saw her uniform. I was like, ‘Yeaaaaah, okay,’ ” Powers said, referring to the mask Delle Donne wears for protection after suffering a broken nose earlier in the season. “I asked her. I said, ‘You playing today?’ She said, ‘I’m going to give it everything I got.’ This team is our family, so when you see somebody hurt, and they’re going hard, you want to go twice as hard. Because they’re giving everything they have, and they’re not even 100 percent. I mean, that’s why she’s the MVP. She’s a hard-nosed player.”
Meesseman had a game-high 21 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter. Cloud had 19 points and led the type of high-effort, in-your-face defense the Mystics needed to notch their first win in three games at Mohegan Sun Arena this season. And Toliver, the only Washington player with a WNBA title, had 20 points and 10 rebounds in front of a vociferous capacity crowd of 9,170.
The Mystics harped all week on the poor defense that contributed to their Game 2 loss, and their renewed effort on that end was the difference Sunday: They out-rebounded the Sun 34-27, allowing Connecticut just seven offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points.
Jonquel Jones, Connecticut’s leading scorer and the George Washington graduate who poured in 32 points and 18 rebounds in Game 2, had nine rebounds and nine points
on eight field goal attempts. Shekinna Stricklen and Jasmine Thomas led the Sun with 16 points apiece.
“That’s what we talked about too — like, don’t care about the ball; just keep her out,” Meesseman said of the Washington bigs’ plan for defending Jones. “Our guards did a good job coming in and taking those rebounds. I think last game, they wanted it more, they pressed us more, they were ready for it and we were not. Today was the opposite. We just need to keep thinking that defense is the most important thing.”
Powers, a high-energy reserve guard, led the Mystics with eight rebounds.
Washington’s strong defense helped fuel its offense. The Mystics shot 50.7 percent from the field and 59.3 percent from the perimeter on an afternoon in which they never trailed in the second half. Connecticut drew within one point on a few possessions in the third quarter, but each time, the Mystics had an answer.
Early in the third, it was a free throw from Jones that brought the Sun within one at 43-42. Toliver responded with a three-pointer.
Stricklen pulled the Sun back within one on its next possession with a three, but Atkins hit a pullup jumper to push the lead back to three.
Later in the quarter, Connecticut closed within two before Delle Donne hit a three-pointer to push the margin back to five, and the Sun managed to get no closer.
At the end of the game, it was Delle Donne who spoke in the postgame huddle. She had to shout to be heard, but her message was simple.
“Forty more minutes,” she said. “That’s all we need.”