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Mystics execute Game 1 strategy: Make life harder on Jonquel Jones

Emma Meesseman, center, and the Mystics were able to make Jonquel Jones, right, a little uncomfortable in Game 1.
Emma Meesseman, center, and the Mystics were able to make Jonquel Jones, right, a little uncomfortable in Game 1. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
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Late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, the Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones had established position on the low block, fronting Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, and raised her right arm to call for an entry pass.

When she received the ball in one of her favorite spots, where her efficiency ranks among the best in the league, Mystics guard Natasha Cloud briefly came off the player she was defending and used her hand to disrupt Jones’s dribble.

It was a sequence the top-seeded Mystics repeated over and again during their 95-86 win Sunday afternoon, bothering Jones from tip-off through the late stages and not permitting the 6-foot-6 all-star forward-center, who finished third in league MVP voting, to operate unfettered in the painted area.

Mystics shoot their way past the Sun in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals

Emma Meesseman, a 6-4 forward, also took turns defending Jones, and in other instances Washington guarded the passer almost nose to nose, preventing an uncontested delivery into the post, where Jones’s turnaround jumper is virtually unblockable.

“Doubling down, just trying to disrupt,” Cloud said. “They really wanted to get into the post today. They weren’t hitting their outside shots until late. Trying to dig, help our bigs a little bit, especially when they’re setting back screens and getting her to the block, it’s really hard to fight around her at that point.”

The multipronged strategy helped limit Jones to 12 points and six rebounds in 32 minutes. The former George Washington standout averaged 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds against the Mystics during a regular season series that No. 2 seed Connecticut won two games to one.

In the teams’ most recent matchup on June 29, Jones had 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds. She can prove to be a significant matchup problem when she draws defenders out of the paint because of her ability to make shots from beyond the arc.

Jones, who led the Sun in scoring (14.6) and rebounding (9.7) during the regular season, shoots close to 39 percent for her career from three-point range and has made 93 three-pointers combined over the last two seasons.

“With Elena’s length, we tried to make it tough on her,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “She shoots the turnaround pretty well against us. We tried to limit her catches a little bit more by denying post entry passes to her.

“Same thing we tried to do in the [WNBA semifinals against Las Vegas], except [Liz] Cambage is so big and physical, it makes it a little bit harder. We tried to put Jonquel in tougher spots, and the trade-off was we gave up some other stuff.”

That exchange was open looks from beyond the arc, particularly for guard Courtney Williams, who scored a game-high 26 points, making a career-high six three-pointers in nine attempts.

No other Sun player, however, made more than one three-pointer in front of a boisterous crowd at Entertainment and Sports Arena.

Jones went 1 for 2 from beyond the arc finishing with her second fewest points in these playoffs. She averaged 21.5 points in the first two games of the WNBA semifinals during a sweep of the Los Angeles Sparks. She played only 28 minutes in Game 3, with Connecticut not in dire need of her services in a 78-56 triumph in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know how many shots I had, but it didn’t feel like it was too many,” said Jones, who made five field goals on eight attempts against the Mystics. “It was just the rhythm of the game, honestly.”

The 2011-12 Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year from Riverdale Baptist wasn’t on the court when the Sun made a push in the fourth quarter, drawing within 80-76 with 5:56 remaining thanks to a pair of free throws from Williams.

Sun Coach Curt Miller instead elected to use a smaller lineup, and it paid off with contributions from the likes of Shekinna Stricklen (13 points), a 6-2 wing, and Morgan Tuck, a 6-2 forward.

But Delle Donne made a jumper to extend the margin to two possessions, and Ariel Atkins sank a three-pointer off a pass from Cloud to push the advantage to 85-76 with 4:09 to play, effectively blunting Connecticut’s chances of completing a comeback from a 14-point deficit in the second half.

“Jonquel, she’s a great player,” Delle Donne said. “She makes some really tough shots. She’s got length, so you can send bodies at her, and she can elevate and shoot over, but we were able to dig. The guards were able to help me a lot on those digs.

“She’s going to get her points, but you try to limit them and make it hard.”

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