For the first time in their 21-season history, the Washington Mystics are headed to the WNBA Finals. In Tuesday’s winner-take-all Game 5, the Mystics finally broke through to the doorstep of a league title by fending off the Dream in Atlanta, 86-81.
Seemingly every Washington player stepped up at one point or another in the semifinal series, and Tuesday night, that player was unquestionably rookie guard Ariel Atkins. After being a key to the Mystics’ critical Game 4 win, Atkins did some of everything for Washington again, scoring a game-high 20 points to go with seven rebounds. It all came with Atkins’ standard of high-intensity defense and some timely charges (taken, not committed).
While the rookie had the spotlight in Game 5, the veterans showed up in a big way to secure a WNBA Finals trip. Kristi Toliver carried over her hot shooting hand from Game 4 to score 19 points, while Tianna Hawkins exploded with 17 points off the bench. Of course, Elena Delle Donne remained remarkably consistent, scoring 14 points to go with 11 rebounds and the team’s best +/- ratio (+8).
Before the series began, the Mystics preached a focus on the little things, and they did all of them well Tuesday when it mattered most. Washington’s aggressive pace dictated the game, but it also led to a whopping 19 trips to the foul line, where the Mystics hit all but 3. In comparison, the Dream only went to the line nine times on the night, easily the difference in a game where both teams had nearly identical nights from the field.
After Atlanta took a one-point lead into halftime, there were two defining runs that took the Mystics to the Finals on Tuesday. The first came at the close of the third quarter when Washington used a 16-7 run to go from six points down to three points up heading into the final frame. Hawkins scored eight points on the run that shut down the Dream at the point where they had arguably the most momentum of the night.
Taking the lead into the fourth set the table for a critical 9-0 run in the middle of the frame that put the Mystics in the driver’s seat with a seven-point lead with 3:48 to play in the game. Every point mattered on the night, as Atlanta rallied to cut the Washington lead to just 1 with 24 seconds remaining thanks in large part to a 5-second call on a Mystics inbound. Finally, in the 11 seconds that remained, Delle Donne hit four free throws to put the game on ice and send Washington on to the Finals.
The Mystics know now that they are on to their final chapter of the 2018 season. What comes next is writing what they hope will be another first in the franchise history books. They’ll await the winner of Tuesday’s other semifinal Game 5 matchup between the Mercury and the Storm.