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The Mystics Kept Their Cool And Finally Captured A Title

Game 5 of the WNBA Finals was defined by a battle of injured stars and a flurry of controversial calls. But the Washington Mystics were unfazed in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter as they pulled away to secure an 89-78 victory over the Connecticut Sun. For the first time in franchise history, the expansion team founded in 1998 has earned a championship title.

In typical Mystics home-court fashion, the game tipped off with fans “Swag Surfin’” in the stands. Connecticut guard Courtney Williams made the first basket of the night, a smooth layup that hushed the crowd. The Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne, who suffered a herniated disk during Game 2 (later revealed to be three herniated disks), responded at the free-throw line after the Sun’s Alyssa Thomas committed her first of four fouls. Thomas was also pushing through pain, playing with two torn labrums.

From that moment on, the game was dominated by foul calls. Nearly all starters from both sides were in foul trouble before the end of the first half. The referees seemed to constantly be blowing their whistles, and many of them were directed at Jonquel Jones. Her teammates and coaches winced at every call against her: Jones led her team in scoring in three games of the series, and it was clear that the Sun would need her.

By the middle of the third quarter, the Sun had built a 9-point lead, but then Jones received a fourth personal foul on a layup by Delle Donne. Brionna Jones subbed in for Jonquel Jones, but Mystics forward Emma Meesseman checked in, too — and right on time. Meesseman was critical to the Mystics’ plans in case Delle Donne was unable to suit up in Game 5, but her presence proved crucial even with Delle Donne on the court. After Jonquel Jones’s departure, mismatches gave Meesseman a clear path to draw fouls and rack up easy buckets. She finished the night with 22 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals — and the title of Finals MVP.

Jonquel Jones returned in the fourth quarter, but the damage had already been done. Delle Donne, Meesseman, and the entire Mystics squad kicked their game into high gear. With an assist from Meesseman, Natasha Cloud made an epic 26-foot 3-point jumper to tie the game at 70 — and the Mystics never trailed the rest of the game.

Washington’s shooting game was the envy of the WNBA all season — particularly at the foul line — and Game 5 was no different. After ranking No. 1 during the regular season with a free-throw percentage of 87.5, the Finals champs shot 79.2 percent from the line in Game 5.

The remaining six minutes were filled with pure hustle by both teams. But the Sun were unable to convert their passion into enough points to steal the game. Meesseman and Delle Donne each scored jumpshots, and Kristi Toliver closed out the game with some crisp free throws. As the game clock ticked down to zero, players embraced one another on the sideline and on the court.

Delle Donne played 37 minutes in Game 5 despite her injuries. The league MVP racked up 21 points, nine rebounds, two assists and one steal.

“Have I told you lately that I love you?” said an emotional Delle Donne to her coach, Mike Thibault. Delle Donne told reporter Holly Rowe after the game that she has said this to Thibault throughout the playoffs. Though Thibault is the winningest coach in WNBA history, this was his first WNBA Finals win. “A lot of people questioned why I went to a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in a while,” Delle Donne said, “and I saw it with coach, I knew he was building something really special.”

Tiye Sheppard is FiveThirtyEight’s sports intern.