WASHINGTON -- The Washington Mystics beat the Las Vegas Aces 103-91 in Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals on Thursday night. Here are five observations from the game...
1. Before Thursday's game, as she was accepting her second WNBA MVP award, Elena Delle Donne explained how she had learned in the four years since winning her first MVP trophy the importance of making her teammates better. That approach paid off in Game 2, as the Aces' defense swarmed to limit her to just 14 points, well below her 19.5-point average, and to 33.3 percent shooting.
Delle Donne made sure she was effective in other ways. She grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked two shots and used her length to eliminate passing lanes. Though she wasn't making shots, she created space for others by drawing Las Vegas' tallest defenders to the perimeter.
Delle Donne wasn't the star of the box score, but her approach and execution were pivotal in a Mystics win, one that gave them a commanding 2-0 lead as the five-game series shifts to the desert.
2. What many on the Mystics predicted entering the playoffs has come true through two games that Emma Meesseman would be a major difference-maker after she missed last year's postseason run that ended with a loss in the Finals. After dropping 27 points with 10 rebounds in Game 1, she was back throwing haymakers in Game 2, posting 30 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
Meesseman (6-foot-4) isn't nearly as big as Aces center Liz Cambage (6-foot-8), yet she attacked the lane consistently to look for her shot and to set up others. She had a play midway through the second quarter where she spun around Cambage and finished through contact with her right hand for an and-1. It got many fans out of their seats and some emphatic fist pumps from Wizards guard Bradley Beal who was sitting behind the basket.
Meesseman's toughness and craft are perfect for postseason basketball. She can score inside and out and is a disruptive defender despite not being a major rim protector.
3. The Aces' defensive adjustment after Game 1 was clearly to take away the three-point shot. The Mystics made 11 threes on 28 attempts on Tuesday, but by halftime on Thursday had only seven shots and two makes. Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud had a combined two attempts.
Washington missed their first three shots from long range to open the second half before Meesseman got one to fall. The Mystics finished 8-for-20 (40 percent) from the perimeter.
4. Meesseman's contributions were crucial and the same for LaToya Sanders, who played well above her regular season level on offense in Game 2. She had eight points in the first nine minutes of the first quarter, more than her season scoring average (6.1). She had 17 points with six rebounds and two steals by the time it was over.
Sanders' main priority is defense and has been tasked with checking Cambage so far in this series. But she can affects games on offense as well and the Aces paid for forgetting that. They left her open on midrange shots and long twos, banking on her to miss because she rarely even attempts threes. Sanders, though, knocked them down and gave the Mystics an unexpected lift.
5. It was only the second game back for guard Kristi Toliver, who is still sporting a leg brace after missing over a month due to a right knee contusion and MCL strain. Though she has practiced and is now back in-game action, it will naturally take time for her to find a rhythm and to get back into game shape.
In Game 2, she showed some rust by getting into early foul trouble. She picked up her third foul late in the second quarter after just eight minutes of action. That forced head coach Mike Thibault to go deeper into his bench and give Shatori Walker-Kimbrough some playing time. Walker-Kimbrough did not play at all in Game 1.
Toliver was able to get going later on and ended up with 10 points and three assists, including a three late in the third quarter where she turned and cupped her ear to the crowd before it swished through the net.
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