The good, bad and ugly about Washington surviving Las Vegas, 97-95, kicking off semifinal series
Meesseman has playoff career high as Mystics survive Aces in semifinals game one
WASHINGTON D.C. – Sixteen lead changes and ten ties had the 3,968 fans in Entertainment and Sports Arena on the edge of their seats of a theatrical game one in the playoffs semifinal series between the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics Tuesday night.
But Aces guard Kelsey Plum missed the last shot of the game, while head coach Bill Laimbeer yelled for a timeout to get a cleaner shot, and the Mystics created just enough magic for a 97-95 win.
“Sometimes, it’s better just to survive.” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said about the slim victory. “We didn’t play our best basketball. I thought Vegas – particularly their bench – gave them a great lift.”
However, Mystics forward Emma Meesseman thrived. Las Vegas, too busy doubling on forward and MVP favorite Elena Delle Donne, who scored 24 points, which allowed Meesseman to finish with a double-double of 27 points and 10 rebounds. She earned 13 points in the third quarter alone. Washington’s ability to find Meesseman was highlighted their win.
“[Teammates] made me confident,” she said. “We were moving the ball in our offense and I just got my open shots.”
Refreshed from a charter flight provide approved by new WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, the Aces did not disappoint in their first-ever franchise semifinal matchup.
“She stood up and made a decision for the betterment of our league and I’m very proud of her,” Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer said, especially in light of team travel woes over the past few seasons. It’s about time we did that.”
Washington’s center LaToya Sanders and forward Elena Delle clashed beneath the rim against Las Vegas center Liz Cambage and forward A’ja Wilson. The battle was everything it was expected to be.
Washington guards also contributed, adding 32 points. Natasha Cloud made most of the noise in the first quarter, creating a 9-0 run on her own.
The crowd welcomed back veteran guard Kristi Toliver with a raucous standing ovation. She emerged when needed most after missing 11 games due to a right knee injury. Her first points came from a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the third quarter. The Mystics lead the Aces 76-73 entering the fourth quarter. She finished with eight points and four assists.
“We’re gonna need her to win the series and beyond that,” Thibault said. “You have to start somewhere might as well start in game one.”
Washington suffered from bad stretches and struggled with closing out quarters. Las Vegas pieced together two 9-0 runs later in the game. Bad shooting nearly cost Washington. They shot 11-of-28 from three-point range though limiting themselves to six turnovers.
The Aces’ defense stuck to the Mystics’ lineups whether they played their interchangeable three-wing line up or their three between forwards Delle Donne, Meesseman and center Sanders. The Aces wouldn’t go away.
“They get away with that big lineup against other teams but against us, they’ve gotta guard.” Laimbeer said.
While Washington contained Cambage, Wilson exploded for 15 first-half points. Aces guard Kelsey Plum beat the buzzer for a 57-50 Las Vegas lead over Washington at halftime.
If Washington look to win the series, they must do so in the paint and by the rim. The Aces outdid the Mystics mostly on the glass, outrebounding them 44-32.
“They came out on fire,” Delle Donne said. “Luckily we were able to come out with that win.”
Wilson and Cambage combined for 42 points with Las Vegas finding 38 points in the paint, 17 second-chance points and seven fastbreak points. Guard Kayla McBride scored 19 points and Plum came off the bench for 16 points and nine assists.
“We pride ourselves on being able to attack no matter what the adversity is,” McBride said. “It’s who we’ve been all year long we know who we are and we’re confident in that and whatever they throw at us we’ve got something for us.”
“We know we match up well with them,” Laimbeer said. “I think that we can put up different lineups out there. If they go big, we can go big. If they go three guards, we can go three guards. It’s about defense for us. Our defense was, for the most part, solid. We made a lot of mistakes…They made a lot of shots and I give them a lot of credit for that. They made some big shots down the stretch.”
The series resumes Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. ET in Washington. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
- Washington tied a franchise playoff high with 97 points scored. The Mystics converted on 38-85 field goals, both franchise playoff records.
- Points in the Paint: Aces 38, Mystics 32
- Mystics center LaToya Sanders recorded five steals, tying the Mystics all-time playoff record, previously set by Chamique Holdsclaw against Charlotte on August 15, 2002.
- Second-chance Points: Aces 17, Mystics 22
- Fastbreak Points: Aces 7, Mystics 0
- Biggest Lead: Aces 7, Mystics 13
- Lead Changes: 16
- Times Tied: 11