WASHINGTON — For long stretches of the second half during their first playoff game of 2019, the Washington Mystics performed like the team that may end up going down as the most-dominant single-season team in WNBA history. The last three minutes of the contest proved that a WNBA title at the end of their historic season is far from a guarantee.
Elena Delle Donne scored 24 points, including what would be the decisive fall-away jumper with just over a minute left, to help lead the Mystics to a 95-93 victory over the Las Vegas Aces in Game 1 of the teams’ best-of-five series. Emma Meesseeman scored a postseason-high 27 points to go along with 10 rebounds to pace the top-seeded Mystics, playing their first game in nine days after receiving a double bye to the semifinals.
After a 26-8 regular season in which it posted a WNBA-record 13 victories by at least 20 points, Washington gutted out its first win all year by a single possession after withstanding a furious Aces rally at the end of the game, one that ended when a Kelsey Plum jumper to tie the game for Las Vegas hit off the backboard at the final buzzer.
“It was stressful,” said Delle Donne afterward. “We haven’t had many of those moments. And to get one of those in the semifinals is big. To be able to gut it out is huge for us.”
Delle Donne, in racing back down the court on defense on the final possession, bumped into Plum from behind as the latter went into her shooting motion at the end of the game, but no foul was given.
Washington found itself down seven at halftime, 57-50, before going on a 42-22 extended run to seemingly take control of the game, with Kristi Toliver’s three-pointer giving the Mystics a 92-79 lead with 6:23 left.
Las Vegas responded with a 9-0 spurt, with Liz Cambage’s runner cutting Washington’s lead to 92-88. On the next possession, Delle Donne nailed a three-pointer to slow the Aces’ momentum.
A’ja Wilson hit a layup with 1:33 remaining to bring Las Vegas within 95-93 and had a chance to tie the game after an Aces’ defensive stand before missing a step-back jumper. Delle Donne nailed a fade-away of her own with 32.9 seconds left for what proved to be the game-winning basket.
Wilson scored 23 points to lead the Aces while Cambage and guard Kayla McBride each had 19. Plum scored 16 points and dished out nine assists in 30 minutes off the bench.
Washington led 30-27 after one quarter, but allowed Las Vegas to shoot 11-of-15 (73.3 percent) from the field. The Aces then outscored Washington 30-20 in the second stanza to take a seven-point lead at halftime.
The Mystics were playing their first playoff game since being swept in last year’s WNBA Finals against the Seattle Storm, with the clincher being played on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. as the Mystics’ then-home, Capital One Arena, was occupied due to a scheduling conflict. Tonight’s game marked the first playoff game in the new Entertainment and Sports Arena.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Tuesday evening’s action, with all photos taken by DC-area photographer Yusuf Abdullah. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 17 pictures in total.