It took all five games, but the Washington Mystics are WNBA champions for the first time in franchise history. They lifted the trophy on Thursday night after taking down the Connecticut Sun, 89-78 in a thrilling winner-take-all Game 5 that lived up to expectations. Emma Meesseman kept up her strong play, finishing with 22 points to lead the Mystics in scoring en route to.
Jonquel Jones finished with 25 points and nine rebounds to lead the Sun, but was hampered by foul trouble. Alyssa Thomas, meanwhile, went for 21 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in another strong performance. It just wasn't enough for the Sun, who couldn't quite keep up with the Mystics down the stretch.
Here are a few key takeaways from a thrilling Game 5:
Mystics, Delle Donne, Thibault all get their first title
The big story, of course, is that the Mystics are WNBA champions for the first time in franchise history. They entered the league in its second season of existence, back in 1998, and in their first 19 seasons of existence they won just one playoff series. In 2017, when Elena Delle Donne arrived, they made it to the semifinals, but were swept by the eventual champions, the Minnesota Lynx. Last season, they made it to the Finals for the first time ever, but were swept by the Seattle Storm. This time around, they finally did the damn thing, taking down the Sun for their first title.
But it wasn't just the Mystics who were after their first title. Delle Donne, who has been an elite player since Day One, had accomplished just about everything there is to do in the WNBA. This season she won her second MVP Award, she's been to six All-Star Games, been on the All-WNBA First Team four times, won a scoring title, won Rookie of the Year and is the only WNBA player ever to join the 50/40/90 club. But she hadn't won a title. In 2014, she led the Chicago Sky to the Finals, but they were swept by the Phoenix Mercury. Last season, of course, she was playing injured as her and the Mystics were swept by the Storm. Now, finally, she is a WNBA champion.
Likewise, Mystics head coach Mike Thibault has established himself as one of the greatest coaches the women's game has ever seen. A three-time WNBA Coach of the Year, he's the winningest coach in league history, and the only WNBA coach to surpass 300 wins. In 17 seasons, he's amassed a 336-242 record, and has missed the playoffs just three times. But he had never been able to capture a title. In 2004 and 2005 he fell short -- coincidentally with the Sun -- and last season again he wasn't able to get one. But now, he too can finally call himself a WNBA champion.
Meesseman proves her worth
Emma Meesseman decided to sit out of the WNBA last season, opting to stay at home in Belgium to train with her national team. The Mystics still made it to the Finals, but her absence was noticeable, especially after Elena Delle Donne suffered a knee injury and wasn't able to play to her usual standards. As a result, they were swept by the Seattle Storm in what ended up being a pretty big mismatch.
Meesseman was back with the Mystics this season, though, and there was no mistaking the impact she made. It was almost unfair to have her ready to check in off the bench when Delle Donne needed a rest, and she was a big reason the Mystics finished with the best record in the league and the best offensive rating of all time. Much was made about Delle Donne becoming the first WNBA player to ever join the 50/40/90 club, but Meesseman would have done so as well if she played enough games to qualify.
In the playoffs, she kept up that torrid shooting, finishing with an absurd 58.2/58.1/82.4 slash line, while averaging 19.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals. It was fitting, as well, that she was ready to step up when Delle Donne once again suffered an injury late in the postseason. This time around, it was a back injury that hampered Delle Donne in the Finals, but Meesseman was in town and that made all the difference.
She was clutch once again in Game 5, leading the team in scoring with 22 points, including 11 in the third quarter to lead the Mystics' big turnaround. After Jonquel Jones had to go to the bench with foul trouble, Meesseman went to work, cooking the Sun reserves time and again to get the Mystics back in the game. By the time the third quarter buzzer sounded, the deficit was down to just two points. From there, of course, the Mystics went on to pull away in the fourth quarter and take both the game and the title.
For her efforts not only in Game 5, but throughout the series, Meesseman was rightly named Finals MVP, becoming the first European player to win the honor, and just the second non-American along with former Storm star Lauren Jackson.
Cloud backs up her talk
"We're going back home to D.C. for Game 5, so our fans better be ready because we're winning a championship on our floor," Natasha Cloud said after the Mystics' Game 4 loss. "That's a guarantee."
The confidence was admirable, but bold predictions like that are a tricky game to get involved in -- especially as a role player. And it didn't take long for the Sun to catch wind of what she said. "Hearddd Juuuuu!" Courtney Williams tweeted in response. "We'll see."
We did see, and the Mystics did win a championship on their home floor. Cloud's prediction came true, and she was a big reason why, coming up with one of her best performances of the playoffs. She went for 18 points, five rebounds, and three assists in 35 minutes, and also hit some huge shots in the fourth quarter.
Early in the final frame, as the two teams were battling for control, Cloud hit a pair of threes and made a layup in a three-minute span. All three of those shots either tied the game or gave the Mystics the lead. In the end, she finished with nine of her 18 points in the fourth, while the Sun managed just 14 as a team.
And all of that is to say nothing of the defense she played all game on Williams, helping hold the Sun sparkplug to 16 points on 7-of-20 shooting.