Ariel Atkins shines as Washington takes game 1 of WNBA Finals topping Sun 95-86
Mystics forward Ariel Atkins scored 21 points, the most points she has scored in a game this postseason
WASHINGTON D.C. – Second-year Mystics forward Ariel Atkins hadn’t been herself for a while. Some may label that a sophomore slump, as she struggled offensively in the playoff semifinal round against the Las Vegas Aces.
Atkins only scored nine points in that series which Washington won 3-1, in large thanks to forward Emma Meesseman’s lights out performance. The quick turnaround left no time for Atkins to reminisce on her lackluster performance in the semifinals.
“Yeah, I did struggle in the first series but the main point of this is to win,” Atkins said. “I could care less if I score 50 or zero. I’m trying to win a championship.”
Her will to win helped give the Washington Mystics a 1-0 series advantage over the Connecticut Sun for a 95-86 victory in game one the WNBA Finals Sunday at Entertainment and Sports Arena.
She started quickly, scoring the first five points of Game 1. Offensively, Atkins got the ball rolling and dominated off clean looks in the first half. She had 14 first-half points along with teammate, 2019 league MVP forward Elena Delle Donne. Washington led 55-46 at the break.
Atkins, at 5-8, endured getting knocked around and thrown to the ground off the momentum of jumping over Sun center, 6-6 Jonquel Jones, for defensive rebounds, but she toughed it out, especially in the paint against her and forward Alyssa Thomas. Atkins only played five minutes of the third quarter and, while she rested, Connecticut eventually caught up.
Washington head coach Thibault called on her with 7:31 left in the game. She entered when Connecticut was on Washington’s heels trailing 78-74 after a 5-0 run to start the final quarter. Atkins refilled the Mystics’ gas tank, out hustling the Sun below the rim by ripping the ball from forward Morgan Tuck’s hands and rebounding center Jones’ missed attempt. She sprinted down court for a late three pointer, creating slim separation for Washington and an 85-76 lead with 4:07 remaining in the game.
Her two offensive rebounds kept the Mystics in the driver’s seat while she defended and trapped Courtney Williams defensively to turn the ball over and out of bounds. Both offensive rebounds led to 2019 MVP forward Elena Delle Donne scoring, but it was Atkins’ fundamental hustles that lifted the Mystics late.
Atkins snagged a late jump ball to hit another jumper. Her last offensive board with 17 seconds left sealed the win. Kristi Toliver, the oldest guard on the roster, lauded Atkins’ behind her nickname “Little A” (to separate her from Washington forward Aerial Powers) for admirable focus and mental strength in her second-straight Finals appearance.
“She is the best second year player I’ve ever been around as far as her maturity level, work ethic, and her want to do what’s best for the team,” Toliver said. “She was the difference maker for us last year and had a great rookie season and this year she’s showing sophomore slumps are B.S. and I’m just really, really proud of her.”
Five Mystics scored in double digits. Delle Donne notched the team high of 22 points and 10 rebounds for her second postseason double-double. Atkins collected 21 points, 6-of-7 overall shooting, 3-of-4 from three-point range and a perfect 6-of-6 free throws.
“We had a lot of great contributions, but the Ariel Atkins contribution was huge today,” Thibault said. “That looked like the Ariel from making the first three of the game. That looked like Ariel from last year of the playoffs. The offensive rebound she got late in the game was a huge saver for us and gave us that last piece of momentum.”
As Atkins rises, a critical point of improvement will be her defensive assignments against Sun guard Courtney Williams.
Williams earned 15 points in the first half, eventually earning the team-high of 26 points and five rebounds. She shot 6-of-9 from three, her best performance beyond the arc the entire 2019 season.
“I felt like I could do whatever I wanted to do,” Williams said. “No shade to her, she’s a great defender, but- I felt like I was getting to all my spots that I wanted to get to. I felt pretty comfortable.”
Three Connecticut players landed in double figures. Alyssa Thomas collected 20 points, six rebounds and six assists. Forward Shekinna Stricklen scored 13 points, 11 which she found in the final quarter.
Game 2 of the Finals is set for 8 p.m. ET Tuesday night in Washington D.C. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and streamed via the ESPN app.
- Points in the Paint: Sun 34, Mystics 28
- Second Chance Points: Sun 13, Mystics 9
- Fastbreak Points: Sun 10, Mystics 2
- Biggest Lead: Sun 0, Mystics 17
- Lead Changes: 0
- Times Tied: 1
- Officials: #42 Roy Gulbeyan, #21 Byron Jarrett, , #13 Cheryl Flores, #9 Tim Greene
- Attendance: 4,200 (Sellout)
- Washington’s win gives them four this postseason, tying a team record for wins in a single postseason. Washington also shot 34-63 (.540) from the field.
- Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne became the 9th player in WNBA history with 10+ career postseason double-doubles. On a free throw with 5:10 remaining in the second quarter, Delle Donne became the 19th player in WNBA history to surpass 600 career playoff points.
- Kristi Toliver needs three 3-pointers made to move into a tie for fifth place with former Mystics guard Kara Lawson (85).
- The Mystics’ 55 points set a postseason franchise record for points scored in the first half.
- Courtney Williams scored her second 20+ point game this post-season, tallying a team-high 26 against the Mystics. This is her sixth playoff game in double-figures as well as her third 20+ point game in her playoff career.
- Connecticut shot 48.5% from the field which is the best the team has shot so far in the playoffs this season.