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Mystics Advance to the WNBA Finals with 86-81 Game 5 Win

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The Washington Mystics are headed to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history after deafeating the Atlanta Dream 86-81 in a winner-take-all Game 5.

Washington did so with the same formula that won them an elimination Game 4 with their star player Elena Delle Donne back in the line up after suffering a bruised bone in her left knee back in Game 2. Delle Donne’s mere presence dictated the Dream’s defensive coverage and ability to get inside the paint. Delle Donne impacted the game with 14 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

Meanwhile, just like in Game 4, Kristi Toliver and rookie Ariel Atkins took advantage of the lapses in Atlanta’s defense. Atkins led the way scoring with a game-high 20 points while adding seven rebounds and three assists. Toliver the second-in-command behind Delle Donne, dropped a spirited 19 points in 39 minutes.

The do-or-die contest was back and forth for much of the night. Atlanta took the lead on a Brittney Sykes basket 71-69 with 6:43 remaining. From there Washington took control of the final minutes going on a crucial 9-0 run over the span of 4:01 before Dream guard Tiffany Hayes broke the run with a driving layup. Delle Donne extended the Mystics lead at 80-73 on a tough shot over two defenders.

Yet still, Atlanta would not quit as they went to Hayes, their leading scorer throughout the season. She would score five points that capped a 8-2 Dream run to close the gap to one point at 82-81. But Delle Donne played the closer, knocking down four big time free throws coupled with a missed three by Hayes with six seconds remaining, as the Mystics punched their ticket to the Finals.

The complexion of the series changed dramatically when Delle Donne hyper-extended her left knee while driving to the lane in the fourth quarter of Game 2. The Mystics were in the lead and looked to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Instead, the Dream rallied without Washington’s best player on the floor, and evened the series 1-1 with a 78-75 lead.

Delle Donne was amazingly diagnosed with the bruised bone despite the injury looking much worse. She would miss Game 3, as Atlanta took the first game in D.C. of the series. Down 2-1 in the series and facing elimination, Delle Donne through a vigorous routine was able to make it back for Game 4. She shined and altered the way the Dream covered on defense. Toliver and Atkins ate of the opportunities as a result, and the Mystics cruised to a 21-point win to even the series at 2-2.

After Tuesday’s nail-biting win, the Mystics are a perfect 4-0 in this year’s playoffs when Delle Donne starts and finishes the game. Credit the rookie Atkins for stepping up and establishing herself. Toliver played her role as the Robin of the dynamic trio with Delle Donne back, and thrived when the team needed her most. After making four treys in the first three games of the series, she made seven in the final two, as the Mystics rallied to win the series.

The win now puts the Mystics on the map as an elite in the WNBA and with their young core seems to have taken the lead in the changing of the guards of the league’s powers. The Mystics were the only active franchise in the league yet to reach a Finals.

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