WASHINGTON - A season predicated by dominance gave the Washington Mystics a slight speed bump Friday night. As victories of 20 or more points have become standard for Washington, a scrappy Dallas Wings gave them all they could handle in the Entertainment and Sports Arena.
Nevertheless, with a Washington 86-73 victory over the Dallas Wings and a Connecticut Sun loss, the Mystics clinched the No. 1 seed in the 2019 WNBA Playoffs.
Unlike most opponents though, the Wings did not fold once the Mystics jumping up by 22 points early in the third quarter. The non-playoff team did not play like one. Dallas played physical and aggressive, totaling 22 fouls to try and slow down the high-powered Washington offense. A mix of double teams and aggressive chase-down person defense kept the Mystics on their toes for the whole game.
“It was such a kind of herky jerky game for a while with foul calls and the physicality. I think it’s good for us to play against physicality like that, because the playoffs are going to be a little bit more like that,” head coach Mike Thibault told reporters after the game, before Washington officially had clinched the No. 1 seed. “It’s a great win…. To decide our own fate, that’s a nice position to be in.”
It wasn’t the typical win for the Mystics, besides not having a 20-plus lead throughout. It displayed a showcase for Emma Meesseman, who led the team in scoring for only the fourth time this year.
The Belgian player showed out for arguably her most impressive game of the season. She matched a season-high 25 points, scoring 23 in the first half alone. At one point she was 9-for-10 shooting and started taking a shot every time the ball found her hands. She ultimately would finish11-for-17 going cold in the second half.
But unstoppable was the only way to describe her in the first 20 minutes. Patrolling the post, slashing toward the rim, stepping out for 3-pointers, the Wings had no answer. Her play was mesmerizing, performing in a manner that the team had yet to see on the court this season.
“She’s a monster. She’s so efficient. She can score the ball at will, so [she] was huge for us tonight,” Elena Delle Donne said after the game.
It was only the fifth start of the season for the 6-4 forward. Throughout the season Meesseman has been a vital bench player for the Mystics averaging 12.6 points. Often she has been the back-up for Delle Donne when she needs rest. With Kristi Toliver out and taking advantage of a big lineup, Meesseman got all of the attention.
“We got her the ball in all kinds of places. She got the ball in the post. She got it on the pick and pop. She got threes. I couldn’t believe she passed up a three down in front of [Dallas’] bench in the fourth quarter,” Thibault said.
The process to get her playing at this level has been slow throughout the season. Of course they would also like it without Delle Donne being held to only 16 points. They would also want to see it for a full 40 minutes over just a half.
But as their first playoff game is nearly two weeks away, Meesseman has come to form at the right time.
“Our biggest missing piece [from last season] was Emma Meesseman,” Natasha Cloud told reporters postgame. “That’s been the biggest difference in our play and where we are right now as a team. She’s phenomenal. It’s fun to watch her. It’s almost like you’re looking at another Elena Delle Donne.”
Another Delle Donne is never a bad thing.
The team remained without one of their key All-Stars Toliver, who out at least until the playoffs. She has been missing from the active roster since Aug. 8. After last season’s injury troubles in the Mystics’ 2018 WNBA playoff run, no one wants to push Toliver back.
While closer than perhaps the Mystics (25-8) would have hoped, Friday gave the team their 25th win on the season. Further building on the franchise-record that the team currently holds, Washington will get to enjoy a double-bye to start the playoffs.
Taking the top seed for the playoffs marks another first on the Mystics historic season. In addition to a franchise record for wins, they’ve also set the WNBA record for made 3-pointers in a game, the WNBA’s wins by 20 or more points, just to name a few.
Mission accomplished for the regular season as the team has ‘ran it back’ and more. All that is left is to match that effort in the postseason.
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