We’re finally here. After 10 games, a ton of storylines, a ridiculous half-court shot and questions about just who has been hitting the weight room, we have arrived at the best part of the WNBA playoffs: the Finals.
The two teams set to face off Sunday are hardly a surprise. The Mystics and Sun were the best two teams in the league this year, with the former putting together a historic offensive season that saw Elena Delle Donne collect her second MVP award and enter the 50/40/90 club while the latter proved plenty of doubters wrong and saw the realization of coach Curt Miller’s long term plans.
Each team will be playing for their first WNBA championship and it’s hard to find much to separate them. But let’s try anyway.
Most of us are aware of how dominant the Mystics can be, so let’s instead start with how incredible of a season the Sun have put together. Connecticut shrugged off Chiney Ogwumike demanding a trade in the preseason, promoted the 2018 Sixth Woman of the Year to the starting lineup and Jonquel Jones made sure the team didn’t regret it.
Jones finished with 10 second-place votes for MVP this season after leading the league in rebounds per game while also tying Brittney Griner for the league lead in blocks. And on top of being a dominating force inside, she can help stretch out Connecticut’s offense by being more than proficient from 3—and not being afraid to pull up in your face either.
She is flanked by a fleet of what many pundits have been panned for deeming “role players.” Courtney Williams is a bucket with a penchant for smack talk and a game that’s more than backed it up in crucial moments this season. Jasmine Thomas is the calming force in the backcourt who distributes the ball well and was the second half of the dominating backcourt that saw the Sun sweep the Sparks in the semifinal series—more on that later.
Alyssa Thomas may literally be incapable of taking a play off, with her versatility to switch across multiple positions and her consistent scoring making her a threat on both ends. Plus she’s an old-fashioned bully who refuses to give her opposition an inch, which will suit the Sun just fine.
Connecticut had been hard done in the past couple seasons after facing single-elimination games against the Phoenix Mercury and falling short both times. And in its first year under Miller not facing the single-elimination, Connecticut flourished, beating a seemingly stacked Sparks team in three games.
While that series win has been a bit tainted by questions about Derek Fisher’s coaching decisions—specifically of the “not playing Candace Parker in the most important game of the season” variety—that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that the Sun were damn good in all three games.
If Williams gets hot, Alyssa Thomas can shut down one of Delle Donne or Emma Meesseman and the Sun can steal a game in Washington, they will earn the franchise’s first championship. Or …
Ah, that dreaded or. Or the Mystics can do what they failed to do last year after an injured Delle Donne willed herself to play all three games but saw her team fall short in the Finals. Or Washington will have just too many weapons for Connecticut to handle. Or the team that had one of the best offensive seasons we’ve ever seen will crown that achievement with a title.
As I mentioned earlier, we are all aware of how dominant the Mystics are. That was on display in Washington’s semifinal matchup against the Aces, who were picked as preseason favorites to win the championship.
Liz Cambage’s wildly entertaining, but ultimately unconvincing, comments that the Mystics couldn’t handle her in the paint were only proven in Game 3, as Washington hovered around league average when it came to giving up points in the paint and LaToya Sanders did a very good job of handling the Aces’ bigs in Games 1, 2 and 4.
Truly, it was Las Vegas’ defense—you know, just the No. 1 defense during the regular season—who struggled to contain Washington. The Aces did well to shut down one of Delle Donne or Meesseman but never seemed to be able to stifle both of them at the same time, which could be Connecticut’s downfall as well.
Meesseman proved in Games 1 and 2 that she is the second biggest offensive threat on the Mystics’ roster, and with a few days of extra rest to get Kristi Toliver’s knee right and Natasha Cloud all the way hyped up, this offense is likely going to look downright scary in the Finals.
The Mystics’ bench is also stacked with names like Ariel Atkins, Aerial Powers, Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough that are ready to give the team minutes if coach Mike Thibault needs them.
The offensive juggernaut vs. the “underdogs,” the Mystics trying to capture the title that eluded them last year, the Sun trying to capitalize on this squad before having to ask some tough questions this summer and beyond. No matter what storyline you want to focus on, this is set to be one of the most entertaining series in recent memory and either way, one team will accomplish something that it’s never done before.
My choice? Mystics in five, with Game 5 being an absolute nailbiter in the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Agree or disagree, we’re set for some absolutely awesome basketball for the next couple weeks.