The Washington Mystics used the “Run it Back” motto all season to fuel their push for the franchise’s first WNBA championship after being swept in last year’s finals.
They now stand on the precipice of fulfilling that goal as the 2019 finals gets underway, but their opponent is also chasing their first title — and they’ve got a slogan of their own.
The Connecticut Sun, irked by pundits’ dismissal of their championship chances, have rallied behind the hashtag #disrespeCT, a play on the state’s postal code abbreviation.
“I hope they’re done being disrespected,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said after practice Friday. “They got two players on the All-Defensive team and two made the All-Star Game and Jonquel [Jones] is probably an all-league player. They got here because they played great all season.”
Washington and Connecticut enter Game 1 Sunday as the top two seeds, but haven’t met since June 29 when the Mystics won 102-59, the largest margin of victory in franchise history.
Both teams achieved top marks in the regular season. Connecticut led the league in field goal attempts (71) and offensive rebounds (11) per game.
Although the Sun ranked fifth in giving up nearly 97 points per 100 possession in the regular season, that figure dropped to about 82 points during a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Sparks.
Thanks to Jones, drafted in 2016 from George Washington University in northwest D.C. and standing six-foot-six, the Sun lead all playoffs teams in total rebounds at 41 per game.
Connecticut also is the only team to field the same starting five in every game this season.
Washington’s historic offense continued into the playoffs. In its four-game semifinal series against the Las Vegas Aces, the Mystics shot 92 percent from the free-throw line, had a 3-to-1 turnover ratio and committed just eight turnovers per game.
The Mystics also has two All-Stars, guard Kristi Toliver and league MVP Elena Delle Donne. An ex-factor could be forward Emma Meesseman, who didn’t play in last year’s playoffs because of her participation in the European championships.
Meesseman scored 13 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4 in Las Vegas on Tuesday that ended the Aces’ season.
Thibault recalled when she was drafted in the second round in 2013 from Belgium.
“She was a player that didn’t know much about the WNBA, just knew it was the best league and wanted to see it for herself and she was sure I was going to cut her,” he said. “We’ve always told Emma for years that we think she’s better than she thinks she is. Now she knows it. There was no hesitation by her in Game 4. Her aggressiveness has been great.”
The Mystics feature three former Maryland Terrapins: Toliver, Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
Connecticut also has two former Terps in Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas.
“It’s a great day to be a Terp. It’s pretty cool to see so many Maryland alum in the Finals,” Toliver, 32, said. “It feels great to be the oldest.”
Toliver played in all four playoff games after sitting since Aug. 11 with a bruised knee. She started Game 4 Tuesday in Las Vegas, scoring 13 of her 20 points after shedding her knee brace in the second half.
“Once I got that brace off, I was able to actually get downhill,” said Toliver, who also dished out nine assists. “I want to stay in attack mode … not just to finish, but to find my teammates. If I can set that kind of tone, everybody follows that and that is when we play at our best.”