There will be a winner-take-all Game 5 in the 2019 WNBA Finals, thanks to a 90-86 win by the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. This will be the fourth time in the past five years that the Finals go the full five games.
One team is guaranteed to win their first WNBA title in franchise history on Thursday night in Washington, but before we look ahead to Game 5, here are five takeaways from Connecticut’s Game 4 win.
1. Another Fast Start, Another Comeback
- Team A builds a double-digit first quarter lead.
- Team B makes a furious comeback to close the gap.
- Team A holds on and wins the game.
Game 4 followed the same script that we saw from the first three games of this series, only this time, it was Connecticut’s turn to come out on fire and force the Mystics to play from behind.
- Game 1: 1Q: WAS 30, CON 17 (WAS +13); FINAL: WAS 95, CON 86 (WAS +11)
- Game 2: 1Q: CON 29, WAS 17 (CON +12); FINAL: CON 99, WAS 87 (CON +12)
- Game 3: 1Q: WAS 32, CON 17 (WAS +15); FINAL: WAS 94, CON 81 (WAS +13)
- Game 4: CON 32, WAS 17 (CON +15); FINAL: CON 90, WAS 86 (CON +4)
While the “win the first quarter, win the game” formula held true in Game 4, this one was a little different than the previous three games. The Mystics not only closed the gap, but eventually took the lead in the second half. This was the first second-half lead change of the entire series.
Entering Game 4, there had been a total of two lead changes – both of which took place early in the first quarter – and five ties through the first three games. Game 4 gave us four lead changes and seven ties by itself and was the first game of the series decided by single digits.
Connecticut led by 15 after the first quarter and 16 at the half, but the Mystics outscored the Sun 28-12 in the third quarter to even the score heading into the fourth quarter.
“Jazz (Jasmine Thomas) came over to us and she said, it’s 0-0, it’s time to get back to it,” Courtney Williams said after the game. “We knew they were going to go on a run. We didn’t know they were going to go on that type of run, but we knew that we had to get after it. We knew we had to stay mentally strong. We know that basketball is a game of runs, so we knew that our mentality was to just get stops and knock down buckets, and that’s what we did.”
After trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half, the Mystics took their biggest lead of five with 6:51 to play on an Emma Meesseman 3-pointer. However, Connecticut would outscore Washington 18-9 the rest of the way to keep their season alive and force a decisive Game 5 back in DC on Thursday.
“It’s been hard in this series,” said Mystics coach Mike Thibault after the game. ”Whoever digs themselves a hole, every team has come back in this series. Both teams have come back. But it’s hard when you’re looking at the deficit we were looking at. I think it was 18 at one point, and the fact that we were ahead says a lot of good things, but then our execution once we got the lead was not great.”
If the trend continues, it will be Washington’s turn to have the strong first quarter in Game 5 back at home.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s what we worked for this whole season, but we also know you can’t just rely on being home to get it done, and the way we came out and started the game, that really dug us into a huge hole,” said Elena Delle Donne. “They’re a great team, so to give them that kind of lead really makes things difficult.”
2. Bounce Backs From Jonquel Jones And Courtney Williams
Throughout this series, Sun coach Curt Miller has talked about the importance of getting touches for Jonquel Jones and how her touches translate to team success.
There may not be a better bellwether in this series than the play of Jonquel Jones. Take a look at these numbers from the Finals:
- Connecticut’s Two Wins: 25.0 PTS, 15.5 REB, 5.5 OREB, 55.9 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 2.0 BLK
- Connecticut’s Two Losses: 10.5 PTS, 7.5 REB, 1.0 OREB, 50.0 FG%, 16.7 3P%, 0.5 BLK
After finishing with nine points and nine rebounds in Connecticut’s Game 3 loss, Jones bounced back with 18 points and 13 rebounds – both game-highs – in Connecticut’s Game 4 win.
“Yeah, we went stretches without her touching it, which was frustrating, but her activity never stopped,” said Miller of Jones in Game 4. “I thought she was really active around the glass, even when she wasn’t touching. I thought she screened better tonight, and then we got her touches when we needed to in the fourth quarter to get a rim run after the amount of minutes that she plays, and how much physicality she has to handle and go through. A big turnaround late. We got in the middle of the floor and got her more touches down the stretch, and I think it was really, really important, since we went stretches at times without her getting touches.”
While Jones led the way with 18 points, all five of Connecticut’s starters scored at least 14 points in Game 4 – including Courtney Williams, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals after having her toughest game of the postseason in Game 3 (6 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2-9 FG).
“I thought we just stayed aggressive,” she said after the game. “Our teammates definitely challenged me personally and told me that regardless of what my offense is, I’ve still got to get after it on defense. So I think just keeping that mentality and knowing like, we’ve just got to play hard — I mean, our back was against the wall, so we had to get to it.”
After having their season end with playoff losses on their home floor in each of the past two seasons, the Sun would not allow their 2019 run to end on Tuesday. With the win, they closed out the year with an 18-3 record at Mohegan Sun Arena between the regular season and playoffs.
3. Alyssa Thomas’ Brilliant All-Around Play
There have been 160 minutes of basketball played in this series through four games. Alyssa Thomas has played all but 29 seconds of those minutes. In Game 4, she played the full 40 for the third time in the series and put together a stat-line rarely seen in any WNBA game – let alone a Finals elimination game.
Thomas finished with 17 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds on Tuesday, joining the great Tamika Catchings as the only other players to put up those numbers in a WNBA Playoff game – both took place in the Finals.
Thomas tied two Finals assists records on Tuesday as her eight assists in the first half matched the record held by Courtney Vandersloot from 2014, and her 11 assists for the game matched the record held by Nikki Teasley (3 times), Catchings, Vandersloot, Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore.
It has been well established that Thomas is one of the best playmaking bigs in the WNBA – her 3.1 assists per game during the regular season ranked fourth among forwards and centers. Her ability to make plays for her teammates — not only in transition, but also in the half court — allows the Sun to mix up their attack on offense.
“Yeah, it changes our spacing. It changes our attack,” said Miller. “We like that she’s initiating offense and some of the actions that it gets us in. You can’t do that — they’re too talented. They’re too well-coached to do anything for too long. But in stretches tonight with Alyssa starting the offense, we were really, really productive. Some of our most productive offense came with her running the offense.”
As impressive as her passing was on Tuesday, it was her free throw shooting that really stood out. A pair of torn labrums has hurt Thomas’ shooting stroke from the foul line all year long. She shot a career-low 49.6 percent (60-121) during the regular season. Heading into Game 4, she had increased that percentage to 69.6 percent during the playoffs (16-23). With Connecticut’s season on the line, Thomas stepped up and shot 9-of-10 from the foul line on Tuesday, her only miss coming with 10 seconds left after her first free throw of that set essentially iced the game and gave Connecticut a four-point cushion.
4. Washington Bench Continues To Shine
Both teams finished with five players scoring in double figures. For the Sun, it was their entire starting five, as no team has relied upon its starters more this season. For the Mystics, three starters finished in double figures, as well as two bench players, including Aerial Powers, who scored a team-high 15 points in 22 minutes.
“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t put her in any leadership role on offense,” said Mystics coach Mike Thibault of Power’s performance. “She got hers because they were taking away other people, and she was aggressive. We didn’t run any plays for her in particular. We let her be the off-ball person, and when they helped, let them come to her and swing and let her attack from that standpoint.
“It’s amazing how, if you bring energy, the ball finds you. I wish we had played as a group with the energy that she brought. I feel bad, she and Tianna Hawkins played well, but it’s hard to keep everybody on the floor. You’ve got Elena [Delle Donne] and Emma [Meesseman] and everybody else. But Aerial gave us an energy lift as much as anything.”
In total, the Mystics bench outscored the Sun bench 39-10 and accounted for 45 percent of the Washington scoring on Tuesday. In addition to Powers, Emma Meesseman scored 12 points off the Mystics bench – all in the second half – as Washington fought its way back into the game.
“Well, I mean, we had the highest-scoring bench in the league for the season, so we’re used to that, and the bench got a whole lot better when Emma came back from overseas,” said Thibault. “You know, it’s the good and the bad of it. It’s a nice thing as a coach to have a bench that can bail you out and do things, but it’s tough that if you have to rely on that, as we’ve had to a couple times in this series. I like the fact that I can play nine people every night and get good results. It’s hard for me right now when I’m talking to you to get over how we started the game. So I’m glad our bench gave us the energy that we needed, but it’s such a disappointing finish.”
5. Washington’s Missed Opportunities
Even after they dug themselves an 18-point hole to dig out of, the Mystics had their chances to win Game 4 and earn their first title in franchise history on Tuesday. Washington was able to erase a 16-point halftime deficit in the third quarter and entered the fourth quarter with the game tied and all the momentum on their side.
In Game 2, they rallied from 14 points down to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but they were never able to take the lead. In Game 4, they took the lead and got up by as many as five points with less than seven minutes to play. But Connecticut answered back as any team facing elimination would, and erased that lead in the span of 76 seconds of game time.
The next 3 minutes and 20 seconds saw the teams trade makes and misses with neither team able to get any separation:
- 04:31: Cloud Driving Finger Roll Layup Shot [WAS 79-77, WAS+2]
- 04:17: Jones Cutting Layup Shot [CON 79-79, TIE]
- 03:59: Powers Jump Shot [WAS 81-79, WAS+2]
- 03:41: Thomas 2 Free Throws [CON 81-81, TIE]
- 03:09: Thomas 3pt Shot [CON 84-81, CON+3]
- 02:44: Meesseman 3pt Shot [WAS 84-84, TIE]
- 02:23: Stricklen 3pt Shot [CON 87-84, CON+3]
- 02:10: Cloud Driving Layup Shot [WAS 86-87, CON+1]
That Natasha Cloud layup to make it a one-point game with 2:10 to play not only represented the last points that the Mystics would score, but also the last basket that either team would make. Connecticut would eventually score the final three points of the game from the free throw line to close it out.
“I think we also had a few open shots that we didn’t hit,” Powers said of Washington’s final 2:10 of the game. “I mean, the ball movement was there, but we didn’t hit a few shots. I honestly feel that way. We just have to be better come Thursday.”
From 2:10 to 0:18, neither team scored as both missed three shots during that stretch of play. The Mystics were getting the stops they needed in order to give themselves a chance to take the lead and possibly win the title, but came up empty-handed. Powers had the best opportunity for Washington in the game’s final 30 seconds.
The Mystics went to their high middle pick and roll with Emma Meesseman and Kristi Toliver – the play that worked three straight possessions to open the fourth quarter of Game 3. As Toliver uses the screen, Natasha Cloud cuts from the right wing into the lane. Cloud’s defender, Courtney Williams, lets her go and stay to help on Toliver and close off the driving lane. Shekinna Stricklen has to slide into the lane to cover Cloud so she’s not free for a Toliver pass and layup. But by doing that, Stricklen leaves Powers wide open in the right corner. Toliver sees Powers and delivers the pass for the shot as Stricklen closes out as quickly as she can to contest the three. The shot is on line, but is a little long as it comes off the rim and into the hands of Williams, who is immediately fouled.
If that shot falls, the Mystics lead by two with 27 seconds to play. Instead, the Mystics were forced to foul and Connecticut made three of four free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.