WASHINGTON >> Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics capped an eventful WNBA season with the team’s first championship.
A year that began with the league missing some of its top players because of injuries and rest ended with a compelling five-game championship series.
Delle Donne battled through injuries all season, a broken nose early on and then three herniated disks in her back in the Finals. None of it mattered. She wouldn’t be denied her first title.
“To be on a team that could carry me when I wasn’t 100 percent really means a lot to just get over this hump and to be able to push through when not feeling great,” she said.
It wasn’t easy.
“It took five games, took four in the semis, it took battling injuries, it took a lot of resilience, fight, heart,” said Kristi Toliver, the only Mystics player to win a WNBA title before Thursday night. “We had the biggest heart all year, and we were the most focused and determined team all year, and we’re just really proud of what we’ve done. But last year obviously certainly motivated us to be really, really focused for the season.”
It helped that Finals MVP Emma Meesseman was back after missing last year to play with the Belgian national team.
“I don’t think I’m the missing piece. I’m their teammate (and did what) I need to do help my team win a championship. This is my family right here,” said Meesseman, who scored 22 points in Washington’s 89-78 victory over the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night.
Delle Donne, a seven-year veteran and two-time MVP, came to Washington three years ago in a trade from Chicago. She grew up in Delaware, about an hour from the capital. Delle Donne sat out a year in college when she transferred in the summer before her freshman season from UConn to Delaware. She wanted to be closer to sister Lizzie, who is blind, deaf and has cerebral palsy.
“It feels phenomenal, my goodness, feels so good. Hard to put it into words,” said Delle Donne, who fell short in two previous Finals appearances. “To win it with such a great group of people. We wanted to win it for the person next to us. We’ll remember this season. I’m kind of sad the season’s about to be over. My goodness, we sure ended this on a high note.”
It was a fitting conclusion to an entertaining series and WNBA season. This was the seventh series in league history that had gone to a deciding Game 5, and the home team has won five of them.
“I think it was good for the league,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “It may not have been a buzzer-beater. We didn’t have that kind of finish in any of the five games, but man, it was good offensive basketball, and it was laying it on the line defensively.”
Coach Mike Thibault earned his first WNBA championship. The league’s all-time winningest coach had reached the Finals three times in his career — twice with Connecticut and last season with Washington — but fell short each time.
Now he can add a title to his name.
“Sweet isn’t it,” he said.