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WNBA Finals Film Study: Washington’s 3-Point Shooting

On Sunday, the Washington Mystics matched the WNBA Playoffs record with 16 3-pointers as they shot their way to a 2-1 series lead and now sit just one win away from their first WNBA title in franchise history.

Washington’s shooting display matched the 16 treys made by the Phoenix Mercury during Game 2 of the 2007 Finals. Both the Mystics and Mercury set the nets ablaze while on the road, but the Mystics did so with much higher efficiency. Washington needed just 27 attempts to make their 16 3-pointers as they shot 59.3 percent from beyond the arc; a much higher mark than Phoenix’s 36.4 percent as they shot 16-44.

There have been 10 games in WNBA history in which a team made at least 16 3-pointers. These Mystics have two of those games as earlier this season they set the WNBA record with 18 3-pointers made in a win over Indiana on Aug. 18.

Sunday’s 16-27 performance ranks as the third-most efficient of any game with at least 16 3-pointers made. Washington got a career-best five 3-pointers from Natasha Cloud (5-10), four from Kristi Toliver (4-4), three apiece from Emma Meesseman and Elena Delle Donne (both 3-4) and one from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.

As we’ll dig into with the video below, Toliver was directly involved with 10 of the 16 3-pointers in Game 3 as she made four on her own and assisted another six en route to posting just the third 20-point, 10-assist game in Finals history (seventh in Playoff history).

Washington wasted no time in getting their 3-point barrage started as their first three buckets all came from beyond the arc. In total, the Mystics made six treys in the first quarter, just one in the second, followed another five in the third quarter and four early in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

First Quarter

1. Natasha Cloud from Ariel Atkins (8:56)

Jasmine Thomas goes for steal on the Atkins catch and overshoots the play, which forces Shekinna Stricklen to leave Cloud to help as Thomas tries to recover. A quick pass back to an open Cloud leads to the first three-pointer of the game for Washington.

2. Elena Delle Donne from Natasha Cloud (8:22)

Delle Donne and Toliver are both on the weak side while Cloud takes a handoff from LaToya Sanders on the strong side wing. Toliver executes a simple pindown screen on Alyssa Thomas to free up Delle Donne from beyond the 3-point line and neither Thomas nor Stricklen can contest the shot.

3. Natasha Cloud from Ariel Atkins (7:46)

This is a great reposition play by Cloud to get an open corner three. She begins by inbounding the ball below the basket on the left side of the key. She gets the ball to Toliver and steps inbounds right below the rim. Toliver gets her the ball, which forces the Sun defense to collapse on her. Cloud hits Atkins on the right wing with a pass, then heads to the right corner. Courtney Williams closes out on Atkins on the pass, Jasmine Thomas heads to the top of the key to defend Sanders, who is one pass away, but that is Jonquel Jones’ man. Jones gets stuck in no man’s land inside the paint. As Atkins passes to Cloud in the corner, Jones still has two feet in the paint and no chance of contesting the shot in time.

4. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (4:41)

Walker-Kimbrough takes the perimeter pass from Aerial Powers and dribbles toward the top of the key. Tianna Hawkins meets her there and sets a screen right below the 3-point line that picks off both Stricklen (Walker-Kimbrough’s man) and Thomas (Hawkins’ man). With both defenders cleared, Walker-Kimbrough rises up for an open three.

5. Kristi Toliver (2:59)

This one is all Toliver. She brings the ball up the left side in transition, does two between the legs crossovers, then goes behind the back to create just enough space between her and  Thomas to rise up for the long three.

6. Kristi Toliver (2:33)

Another one that is all Toliver just making a great one-on-one play. Here she takes advantage of a defensive switch that puts 6-foot-6-inch Jonquel Jones on her. Jones plays off Toliver to respect her drive, so Toliver just steps back and shoots over the outstretched arms of Jones.

Second Quarter

7. Elena Delle Donne from Natasha Cloud (8:09)

With her back ailing, Elena Delle Donne spent much of Game 3 playing on the perimeter as four of her six shot attempts came from beyond the arc. But, she picked her spots to use pump fakes and a drive inside to keep the defense honest. This shot is set up by a Delle Donne pump fake from behind the 3-point line that Morgan Tuck bites on. Delle Donne takes one dribble inside the line, which forces Thomas to leave Cloud and close off the lane. Delle Donne passes to Cloud on the right wing. Cloud then fakes a pass to a cutting Atkins along the baseline which forces the Sun defenders to react and gives Delle Donne time to retreat beyond the 3-point line, where she gets the pass from Cloud and drains the shot.

Third Quarter

8. Kristi Toliver (9:20)

Keep an eye on the initial drive by Toliver as she works off a Delle Donne screen and gets into the lane and passes out to  Cloud on the perimeter. As Toliver cuts through the lane both Alyssa (initially on Delle Donne) and Jasmine Thomas (initially on Toliver) both go with Toliver. They both look back and realize Delle Donne is open, so Jasmine retreats and creates a switch. Cloud drives and passes back to Sanders near the top of the key as Toliver curls around toward the right wing. Sanders makes the short pass to Toliver then steps out to screen Alyssa Thomas, who stumbles trying to get over the screen. With Thomas down, Toliver takes another dribble, steps back and hits the three as Stricklen tries to help and contest.

9. Natasha Cloud From Kristi Toliver (7:12)

The Mystics have cleared the right side for Toliver and Delle Donne to run a pick and roll just outside the 3-point line on the right wing. Toliver uses the screen and as she drives toward the paint from the top of the key, Stricklen leaves Cloud on the left wing to help stop the Toliver drive. Toliver recognizes the double team and passes out to Cloud for a wide-open look.

10. Elena Delle Donne from Kristi Toliver (4:42)

After receiving a dribble handoff from Delle Donne on the left wing, Toliver brings the ball toward the top between the 3-point line and mid-court logo, where she receives a screen from Sanders. Being that far away from the basket, Jasmine Thomas goes under the screen to meet Toliver. Toliver then cuts it back left and goes around Sanders, who doesn’t set a screen but is just in the way of Thomas. As this is happening, Alyssa Thomas has crept toward the elbow to help prevent a Toliver drive, but that leaves just enough space for Toliver to hit Delle Donne with a pass on the wing. Alyssa Thomas recovers to contest the shot, but it still goes down for Delle Donne.

11. Natasha Cloud from Elena Delle Donne (4:04)

Meesseman drives the lane and kicks out to Natasha Cloud on the left wing, which is a bit crowded with Walker-Kimbrough in the corner and Delle Donne on the same side outside the 3-point arc. Thomas goes for the steal but is unable to secure as Cloud gets the pass from Meesseman and makes a quick pass up to Delle Donne. Then Cloud steps back behind the 3-point line and gets a return pass from Delle Donne and has just enough time to get the shot off as Stricklen recovers and contests.

12. Natasha Cloud from Emma Meesseman (1:20)

Cloud is inbounding the ball from the baseline and finds Meesseman near the 3-point line just above the left corner of the key. Cloud then curls around the left side and Meesseman hits her with the pass on the left wing. Cloud dribbles toward Meesseman, who takes a step inside the 3-point line and sets a screen on her man (Jones), but Cloud’s man (Stricklen) goes below the screen rather than over and gets stuck with two feet in the paint as Cloud squares up for an open look from three. A late contest doesn’t deter the shot.

Fourth Quarter

13. Emma Meesseman from Kristi Toliver (9:45)

14. Emma Meesseman from Kristi Toliver (8:53)

15. Emma Meesseman from Kristi Toliver (8:23)

If there is one sequence that had to drive Sun coach Curt Miller mad following Game 3 it was this trio of pick and pops to open the fourth quarter from Meesseman and Toliver. In the span of 82 seconds of game time, Meesseman and Toliver executed the exact same play three times in a row to perfection. Each one began with Toliver on the dribble between the 3-point line and mid-court and the other four Mystics below the midpoint of the key, two per side. Meesseman comes up from the right side to set a screen for Toliver, and as Toliver goes over the screen, Meesseman pops out to the 3-point line on the left wing rather than roll to the basket. Each time, the Sun defense is late in recovering to Meesseman and she drained all three 3-pointers from nearly the exact same spot on the floor.

16. Kristi Toliver (7:46)

This time Meesseman comes from the left high post to set a screen for Toliver, but the Sun’s Jones and Williams trap Toliver and force her to pick up her dribble. Toliver passes to Cloud on the wing as Meesseman rolls to the basket. Initially, both Jones and Williams follow Meesseman and leave Toliver alone. Cloud goes back to Toliver, who is a step beyond the 3-point line. Williams turns and quickly recovers to Toliver, who then uses a quick dribble that puts Williams on her heels. Toliver then uses a between the legs crossover to square herself to the basket and she pulls up for Washington’s final 3-pointer of the game as Williams lunges back to the 3-point line to try to contest.