The Washington Mystics overcame a quiet night from Elena Delle Donne to earn a trip to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, holding off the Atlanta Dream 86-81 in the decisive fifth game of their semifinal series Tuesday night.
The Dream led 71-69 with just under 7 minutes remaining but suddenly went cold at the worst time of what had been a remarkable turnaround season. Washington seized the lead with a 9-0 run and survived a desperation 3-pointer by Tiffany Hayes, earning a spot in the Finals against either Seattle or Phoenix. Those teams were tipping off in their own Game 5 about the time the final horn sounded in Atlanta.
Delle Donne scored 14 points, far below the 24.7 she was averaging in the series despite missing Game 3 with a knee injury. Ariel Atkins led the way with 20, Kristi Toliver had 19 and Tianna Hawkins added 17.
Alex Bentley scored 16 points to lead five Atlanta players in double figures. But the Dream couldn't overcome the loss of star Angel McCoughtry late in the season to a knee injury.
The first half was highly entertaining, certainly worthy of a game to decide which team went to the WNBA Finals.
With Delle Donne limited to just four points, Toliver carried the Mystics from long range. She scored 17 points, knocked down a 3-pointer from almost 30 feet and even tried one from just inside the midcourt stripe.
The Dream responded with a more balanced attack. Bentley scored 11 points off the bench, while Brittney Sykes and Elizabeth Williams chipped in with 10 apiece.
Washington jumped ahead 16-8, the home team responded with an 11-2 spurt and it was pretty much back-and-forth from there. The lead changed hands eight more times — to go along with three ties — before the Dream settled for a 50-49 halftime edge.
Both teams clamped down defensively in the second half.
In the end, Washington got the stops that mattered. After Bentley hit a 3 and Washington failed to get the ball inbounds, Atlanta had a chance to tie. But Bentley couldn't get open, forcing Hayes to throw up a wild shot that didn't hit anything.
BRELAND BANGED UP
Already missing McCoughtry, Atlanta got another scare when Jessica Breland hobbled to the bench after a wild scramble in the lane midway through the third quarter.
Breland limped off the court, was treated on the end of the bench and was able to get back in the game about 2½ minutes later.
Hawkins took over for Washington in the final 2 minutes of the third quarter, single-handedly ripping off an 8-0 run with a pair of 3-pointers and a fast-break layup that turned a 61-59 deficit into a 67-61 lead for the Mystics.
But the Dream finished the period on a high. After Delle Donne passed on a chance to take the final shot of the third — missing a wide-open 3 from the top of the key — Renee Montgomery raced to the other end of the court, curled behind a pick and hurled up a 3-pointer at the buzzer that cut the deficit to 67-64 heading to the final period.
The Dream missed out on the fourth trip to the Finals in franchise history. They were swept in each of their three previous appearances.
The Mystics were in the semifinals for the second year in a row. This time, they made it over the hump.