On the day Washington Mystics All-Star forward Elena Delle Donne won the league’s Most Valuable Player award, she didn’t have a particularly strong shooting performance.
Delle Donne scored 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting, but she pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked two shots that led to scores.
Eventually, the Mystics held serve at home Thursday, defeating the Las Vegas Aces 103-91 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five WNBA semifinal series before a sellout crowd mostly decked in red at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in southeast D.C.
“[Delle Donne] didn’t have a good shooting game, and yet people are running to double-team her and she’s finding somebody else,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. “She knew she wasn’t in a good rhythm, so she gave up herself partly to be a decoy. She does that to help our team win. That’s the Elena Delle Donne that’s the MVP.”
The contrast in styles was evident. Washington, which led the league in 3-point shooting, shot 8 of 20 from beyond the arc Thursday, compared to 4 of 10 by the Aces. Las Vegas’ strength rests inside the paint, where they outscored Washington 46-28.
Washington only scored two fast break points, but only had six turnovers. Las Vegas recorded 12.
“We turned the ball over and gave them a downhill advantage,” said Las Vegas point guard Kelsey Plum, who had 19 points and 10 assists. “They capitalize on everything you do and mistakes you make. Coach [Bill Laimbeer] says, ‘If you relax for a second, before you know you look up [and] you’re down 10 [points].’”
The series moves Sunday to Las Vegas for Game 3, where the Mystics can close it out. Laimbeer said some defensive adjustments are needed, particularly to slow down Mystics forward Emma Meesseman, who again led all scorers with 30 points, along with six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
But the Mystics’ depth doesn’t end with Meesseman, who didn’t play in last year’s playoffs while playing in the European championships. All-Star guard Kristi Toliver, in just her second game after an extended absence with an injured knee, scored seven of her 10 points in the fourth quarter, while Natasha Cloud recorded a double-double with 18 points and 11 assists.
Cloud was involved in what Thibault called the game’s biggest play.
With less than four minutes left in the game, LaToya Sanders grabbed her fifth rebound, dribbled out of the paint and dropped a bounce pass to Cloud, who drove for a layup to put Washington up 93-83.
During the postgame press conference, Sanders, Cloud and Meesseman smiled and all used the word “fun,” which the team attributes to its togetherness and success for this season.
“This is probably one of the [most] unique teams I’ve played for in my WNBA career,” said Sanders, who scored 17 points, 11 more than her regular-season average. “We just get along. There’s none of that petty drama or jealousy. We genuinely support each other and want the best for each other. We know at the end of the day when one person wins a ring, we all going to get a ring.”