NEW YORK (AP) — After getting swept in the WNBA Finals last year, the Washington Mystics are back and ready to win the franchise’s first title.
Losing to Seattle last season helped fuel star Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics to come back better and stronger this year.
“It definitely did,” league MVP Delle Donne said. “Seeing how Seattle was and where they were made us want to be that much better.”
Washington ran through the regular season earning the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and home-court advantage in the finals over the Connecticut Sun.
The Mystics won a hard-fought series with Las Vegas to reach the finals, and unlike last season when they had a huge celebration by reaching the championship round, the team had a more subdued reaction after winning Tuesday.
“Our celebration is more businesslike compared to last year when we were overly excited, throwing stuff around the locker room,” Mystics center LaToya Sanders told the media postgame. “I love how we came in. We’re celebrating, we’re going to enjoy it, but it’s also like we’re not done. So I’m loving it.”
Washington will play Game 1 at home on Sunday. The Mystics lost two of the three regular-season meetings with Connecticut, but the teams haven’t played since late June.
This Mystics team is very different than the one that got swept by Seattle last season. Delle Donne is healthy after dealing with a bone bruise in her knee last year. The Mystics also have Emma Meesseman back. She missed the 2018 season while preparing for the Women’s World Cup with Belgium.
“We didn’t have Emma. We’re a different team when she’s on it,” Delle Donne said. “We got a really good Connecticut team coming in. They are playing really great basketball. We’ll focus on them and figure some things out.”
While the Mystics have been in this position before, only guard Kristi Toliver has won a title, doing so with Los Angeles in 2016. She had been sidelined with her own bone bruise before returning for the playoffs. She started in Game 4 of the series against Las Vegas — the first time she had done so in the playoffs.
After an unremarkable first half, Toliver shed the knee brace that she was wearing to start the second half and scored 10 of her 20 points in the third quarter to help the Mystics prevail.
“We’re on track towards the goal that we wanted to achieve, and everybody worked really hard in the offseason and came into this season really focused,” Toliver said after the win over Las Vegas. “So to be back where we wanted to be is special. But we want to make that next step. It just gets more exciting from here.”
Winning the best-of-five series would also give coach Mike Thibault his first championship. It would come against his former team, which he led from 2003-12. Thibault guided the Sun to the WNBA Finals in 2004 and 2005 before they fell short each time.