2019 WNBA Finals: The biggest X-factor for the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun
Aerial Powers and Shekinna Stricklen won't get top billing, but they could have a big impact on this series
The 2019 WNBA Finals, and on Sunday, the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun will begin their battle for the right to be crowned this season's champion. As always, there will be plenty of on display, including Elena Delle Donne, who won her second MVP award this season, and Jonquel Jones, who finished third in the voting for that honor.
But as we've seen at all levels of basketball throughout the years, championships are often decided not just by the stars, but by which team's role players step up in the big moments. In a short five-game series, those surprise performances can be even more impactful. A strong game off the bench, or a hot shooting night from someone you weren't necessarily counting on can be the difference between which team celebrates with the trophy, and which team goes home empty-handed.
Ahead of Sunday's Game 1, here's a look at one potential x-factor from each team who could help swing this series.
Washington Mystics: Aerial Powers
Along with arguably having the best name in all of sports, Aerial Powers is an important part of this Mystics team. She struggled to find her role and fit in last season after arriving from the Dallas Wings in a trade at the deadline, but has settled in nicely this campaign.
Living up to her name, she's a dynamic athlete who often literally overpowers opponents, whether she's slashing to the basket or battling for rebounds. She was actually a solid 3-point shooter this season, making 36.2 percent of her attempts, and that only made life easier for her because she's at her best putting the ball on the deck and getting into the lane.
Her first step is lightning quick, and she's physical enough to finish once she gets in the paint. For the season, she made 76.7 percent of her attempts in the restricted area, and 60 percent of her attempts in the paint overall -- both of which are strong numbers for a 5-foot-9 wing. She was also 18th in the league in free throws attempted per game at 3.3, and knocked down 86.7 percent of her shots at the line.
That ability to get into the paint and either finish at the rim or draw free throws could be crucial for the Mystics this series. They have an outside-in offensive attack, and led the league in 3-point attempts per game at 25.4. But the Sun boast the best 3-point defense in the league, holding opponents to just 30.8 percent from downtown in the regular season. At some point in this series, the Mystics are going to need to get inside or to the line for easy points, and that's where Powers could shine.
Connecticut Sun: Shekinna Stricklen
Heading into the playoffs the Sun have gone all-in on the underdog role, even coining the tagline "DisrespeCT" in response to comments made about their lack of star power. And perhaps no player on their roster fits that mold more than Shekinna Stricklen.
Even after becoming a consistent starter and winning the Three Point Contest at All-Star Weekend, Stricklen is often overlooked when discussing this Sun team. It may be understandable considering some of the stars and personalities on this team, but Stricklen's shooting ability and the spacing she provides is vital to their offense.
Stricklen is one of the most high-volume 3-point artists in the league, attempting 5.9 per game in the regular season; only Kelsey Mitchell and Renee Montgomery took more than her 199 triples. Even still, she finished 12th in efficiency, knocking down 38.2 percent of her attempts. As a result, the Sun's offensive rating was a strong 104.1 when she was on the floor, but plummeted to 92.3 when she sat. Only Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas had bigger on/off offensive splits for the Sun this season.
Furthermore, Stricklen is a strong barometer for the Sun's success; when she shoots well, they almost always win, but when she doesn't they have a much tougher time. In the regular season, they were 11-2 when Stricklen scored in double figures, and 12-9 when she didn't. Stricklen's shooting will be even more important in this series as the Sun try to keep up with the Mystics' high-powered offensive attack.
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'I have a championship and I don't think I would have gotten that with you,' Powers said
Meesseman finished with 22 points in the decisive Game 5