Mystics take 2-0 lead as series heads to Vegas
The Washington Mystics took a 2-0 series lead with a 103-91 victory on Thursday in their 2019 WNBA Playoffs semifinal series against the Las Vegas Aces.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert was in attendance as newly minted 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne was honored pregame. Here are your Game 2 takeaways as the Aces prepare to hold serve in Games 3 and 4.
Even more Meesseman
Emma Meesseman was the headliner once again, matching her Game 1 point total by the end of the third quarter. She finished with a game-high 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting and accounted for five of the team’s eight made 3-pointers.
Limiting her catch-and-shoot looks must remain a priority for the Aces.
MVP finds a way…and gets help
As Lindsay Gibbs pointed out, it was only fitting to see the Mystics post a 50/40/90 line as a team in the game.
Further, it was even more impressive to see Washington find a way to pull away late as she shot just 5-of-15 from the field.
Delle Donne did drop in one of her signature runners off glass in the second half and came up with some key stops on A’ja Wilson. Washington also got 35 points from two of its other starters along with 10 apiece from Kristi Toliver and Aerial Powers off the bench.
Two big questions for Game 3
Cloud upped the pressure on the Aces’ defense by beating her defender to the other side when ducking under screens, on straight blow-bys and a key scramble situation after a Sanders offensive rebound.
Even as the one member of Washington’s rotation that won’t take open triples, they got plenty of shooting from Sanders as she drilled four midrange jumpers.
Those two battles are key for the Aces. A return to their home floor may help tilt them back in their favor. Helping off of Sanders allows a Vegas big to show help on drives and Delle Donne or Meesseman post-ups. Sanders hesitating on a few of those same looks, maybe with a guard stunting toward her quickly to make her think twice, could stall out a few possessions.
Ducking under screens on Cloud gives you a chance to meet her on the other side. She isn’t the same level of threat as a pull-up shooter as Toliver. That strategy is also a dare: We bet you can’t beat us to the other side. Cloud won a few of those battles in Game 2.
Those two battles will be under the microscope even more in Vegas, especially considering what Toliver showed in Games 1 and 2. Her shooting has to be accounted for at all times, but she wasn’t the same player we saw in the regular season blowing by people at will in isolation.
Even if teams switched more in the postseason and ate into Washington’s ball movement, Toliver’s ability to beat people off the bounce paired with Delle Donne and Meesseman’s size and skill level to attack smaller players, the proposition ultimately felt somewhat helpless.
Maybe Toliver will have more of those moments right away in Game 3. It would be a fitting and cold-blooded way to close out a series.
The Aces can certainly live with another night of the Mystics only managing to hit eight 3-pointers. The problem? That probably isn’t enough. The league’s best offense still managed a 129 offensive rating in Game 2.
Plum draws the start
Kelsey Plum turned in another excellent performance, this time drawing the start. She pointed out very matter-of-factly postgame that she’s the team’s point guard now.
Multiple guards can bring the ball up the floor and initiate offense for a team. In practice, Jackie Young was the point guard for much of the season. (Young added 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 13 minutes in Game 2.)
Plum is running the team in this series, excelling in every aspect—finding her own offense, getting to the rim, setting her teammates up and mercilessly pushing the pace at every opportunity to give the Mystics fits as the Aces storm down the floor to find quality looks very early in the shot clock.
More third-quarter separation
The Mystics outscored the Aces by 10 in the third quarter once again. A combination of some unfortunate missteps and key plays by the Mystics piled up in a hurry.
Delle Donne stepped in to screen for Meesseman, setting up an open 3-pointer as Meesseman’s defender (Liz Cambage) locked in on Cloud looking to drive down the baseline.
Delle Donne tossed in the aforementioned runner off glass, and Meesseman made a key play defensively swooping in from the corner to break up a lob for an open Cambage under the rim.
Cambage missed a layup and Dearica Hamby lost Sanders backdoor before Washington struck again from distance with Toliver stepping in this time away from the ball to free Meesseman once again. Plum and Wilson followed her, leaving Toliver free to step out to the corner for an open trey in front of the Aces’ bench.
Another missed layup by the Aces, this time by Young, led to a Meesseman triple in transition.
The home crowd in Vegas has shown they can create an electric environment at The House. The hope moving forward is that they will enjoy one or two of these stretches, possibly allowing them to play from ahead for the first time all series.
Inevitability of Delle Donne and Meesseman creating quality looks
Five-game series are strange when one team holds a 2-0 lead. Returning home definitely helps the Aces, but Game 1 was their opportunity to ensure a split. The whole thing could be over by Sunday.
The Delle Donne and Meesseman duo really tells the story of this matchup. There’s only so much you can do. The Aces have a dominant frontcourt duo of their own, but Washington is always one cut, pass or miscommunication away from finding an open jump shot.
Cambage and Wilson may simply manage to bludgeon the Mystics inside. Washington has been about even on the offensive glass so far and were plus-one in free throw attempts in Game 2 after a more lopsided Game 1 in that category (22 to 10).
Washington took care of the ball once again, though. Turnovers will continue to haunt the Aces given the additional scoring upside Washington has with their 3-point shooting.
Even against Vegas’ size, Delle Donne or Meesseman can still put the ball on the floor from the 3-point line, work to a spot and score over the top of somebody or draw two defenders and get the ball out quickly.
The Aces, meanwhile, have turned it over too many times throwing the ball into the post and have had many more moments where one of their bigs is open with good position but for whatever reason—a deflection, poor timing, Washington’s length on the ball discouraging those passes or forcing them to be too high in the air—doesn’t get it.
Not to knock the Aces’ duo, but this dynamic tells the story of this matchup. With time, Vegas will rise to even greater heights, just as the Mystics did after being swept in the 2017 semis by the Lynx.
Two short years ago, everybody had Los Angeles and Minnesota in their sights. Washington is that team now.
The door isn’t completely shut. We’ll find out on Sunday if the Aces will be able to spend more time playing with a lead, extend the series and maybe even prove that they’re ready to compete for a championship ahead of schedule.
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