UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — With the season on the line, Alyssa Thomas and the Connecticut Sun turned up their defense to stop the Washington Mystics and force a decisive Game 5 of the WNBA Finals.
Thomas had 17 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds and the Sun held the Mystics without a point over the final 2:10 to beat Washington 90-86 on Tuesday night.
“It was just about being together out there, being on the same page, knowing the game plan and protecting home court,” Thomas said. “When we’re all locked in and on the same page, we just move in unison.”
The title will be decided Thursday night in Washington with a first-time champion crowned. Thomas fell just short of the first triple-double in Finals history.
“We’re having the time of our life right now,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “You dream as a little kid being in a deciding final game, a Game 7 or 5 to win a world championship. If you grew up a basketball fan, these are the moments you dreamed of.”
Jonquel Jones had 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Sun, who had five players score in double figures.
Connecticut blew a 16-point halftime lead as Washington used a huge third quarter to tie the game at 68. The Mystics kept it going to start the fourth, opening up a five-point lead. With their season on the line, the Sun responded.
Jasmine Thomas hit a 3-pointer to put the Sun ahead 84-81. The lead was short-lived as Emma Meesseman answered with a 3 from the wing to tie the game again.
Shekinna Stricklen, the league’s 3-point champion at the All-Star Game, then shook off a defender before making another 3 to give the Sun an 87-84 advantage with 2:22 left. Natasha Cloud made a layup a few seconds later to get the Mystics within one. But Washington didn’t score again.
Aerial Powers, who led Washington with 15 points, missed an open 3-pointer in the corner with 27.5 seconds left that would have put the Mystics ahead.
“Both teams were making big shots. We’d make a 3, they’d answer with a 3,” Miller said. “Ultimately we made a few more plays down the stretch. We got to the line down the stretch. Alyssa Thomas was best foul shooter in the game.”
Connecticut got the rebound and Jasmine Thomas sank two free throws with 18.4 seconds left to make it a three-point game.
After a timeout, Cloud drove to the basket but missed the shot and Alyssa Thomas corralled the rebound and hit the first of two free throws to seal the win.
“I think we also had a few open shots we didn’t hit,” Powers said. “The ball movement wasn’t there, we didn’t hit shots. We need to be better come Thursday.”
Elena Delle Donne, who left Game 2 with back spasms that an MRI later showed resulted from a herniated disk, was able to play more Tuesday night than in Game 3, when she was limited to 26 minutes. The league MVP had 11 points and five rebounds while playing 30 minutes.
“I was a little looser today, so felt better. Hopefully continue to progress and feel better Thursday,” Delle Donne said. “They were playing more aggressive defensively. They weren’t letting us sit outside and shoot 3s.”
Having a chance to win the title at home on Thursday gave the Mystics some confidence.
“That’s what we worked for this whole season,” Delle Donne said. “Can’t rely on being home to get it done. The way we came out and started the game dug us into a huge hole. They are a great team, and you give that type of lead to them, makes thing difficult.”
FIRST QUARTER PREDICTOR
Game 4 held to form for this series, with the team that led after the first quarter coming away with the victory. The Sun outscored Washington by 15 on Tuesday night.
The Mystics won the opening period of Game 1 by 13 points. Connecticut was ahead by 12 in the second game and Washington by 15 in Game 3. Each time, the team that was trailing in the period had 17 points.
FOUL SHOOTING DISPARITY
Connecticut took 26 free throws to only 13 by Washington, with Delle Donne and Meesseman only combining for three attempts. Mystics coach Mike Thibault wasn’t sure why that was the case, especially when the Sun only committed one foul in the final quarter.
“I’m struggling how to understand how Connecticut played with one foul in the fourth quarter,” he said. “Free throw attempts was 26-13. If we could have gone to the line a couple times, we could have slowed the momentum down a little bit.”
Game 5 is Thursday night in Washington.