Why the first quarter might be the most important 10 minutes of Game 4

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Updated: October 8, 2019



9:53 AM ET

Mechelle Voepel

CloseespnW.comMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

D’Arcy Maine

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Tuesday’s Game 4 of the WNBA Finals (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET) could bring a championship for the Washington Mystics, or a rally from the Connecticut Sun to force a decisive Game 5.

What are some of the biggest questions going into Tuesday? ESPN.com’s D’Arcy Maine and Mechelle Voepel offer some answers.

The Mystics had greater energy from the tip in Sunday’s victory. Can the Sun reclaim that Tuesday?

Maine: Courtney Williams said, “We have to come out and punch them first. We can’t get punched in our mouths first.”

Voepel: That sounds really painful.

Maine: Obviously, I don’t condone violence, but the sentiment is right on. The Sun had their moments in Game 3, but they could never capitalize fully on the home crowd of 9,170 that kept trying to explode for them.

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Voepel: Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas said she thought the Sun were too complacent to start the game.

“They came out with an intensity that we didn’t have,” Thomas said. “I just think we were a little too comfortable. We played well at home all season, and we thought it was going to be an easy game. And that’s not the case. It’s the Finals.”

It didn’t help that the Mystics made 16 3-pointers. Those were a crowd buzzkill.

Maine: It’s hard to stop a team that is shooting lights-out, and the Mystics also got the big energy boost from Elena Delle Donne and Ariel Atkins getting to play despite their back injuries. Sun coach Curt Miller said going in that he expected them to play, but seeing them on court really lifted the Mystics.

Voepel: Delle Donne said she fully expects to play Tuesday despite the pain, and Atkins is expected to play, too. So there shouldn’t be quite that extra emotional lift that there was Sunday. But it still has to be inspiring to Delle Donne’s teammates to see the league MVP gutting it out when she clearly doesn’t look comfortable.

Maine: Plus, of course, neither team needs any extra motivation because there is already enough on the line. The Mystics could win their first title, and the Sun want to keep their season alive.

What are the keys for the Sun in Game 4?

Maine: Hope the Mystics forget how to shoot? OK, that won’t happen to the league’s best offense. But the Sun were a terrific defensive team this season. They have to remember what made them that way.

“It was just disappointment that we weren’t as good defensively as we need to be against this team,” Miller said. “We’ve been the best at guarding the arc in the league, and we gave up 16 in the game.”

Jonquel Jones put in one of the best performances in WNBA Finals history in Game 2. She had nine rebounds and nine points on 3-for-8 shooting in Game 3. Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Voepel: Jonquel Jones and Williams were a combined 5-of-17 from the field. As much as Thomas gets the crowd going with her drives to the basket, JJ and Williams are the biggest offensive threats and need to show that Tuesday.

Just about the time it seemed Jones got going in the second quarter on Sunday, the first half ended. The break came at a great time for the Mystics, but not the Sun. They didn’t keep the momentum going to start the third quarter, and that plagued them the rest of the second half.

Maine: Another sellout crowd is expected. The Sun lost just twice at home during the regular season. They had the best record at home, and this place gets very loud. They have to get the crowd involved early, and not just for the T-shirt giveaways.

What are the keys for the Mystics in Game 4?

Maine: Watch video of Game 3, repeat.

Voepel: If only it were that easy, right? These coaches love their video. But the Sun likely will try to be even more physical, especially against Delle Donne. And they will attempt to keep Natasha Cloud (19 points Sunday) from having such a big impact, too.

Maine: The Mystics have to stay focused with so much on the line. They’ve never been 40 minutes from a championship before, so it’s important not to get ahead of themselves. Just focus on each possession.

Voepel: That’s where having veterans like Kristi Toliver (20 points, 10 assists in Game 3) is so important. Toliver is the only one to win a WNBA title, and she helps her teammates understand how big the mental part of the game is. And then there is another very key Mystics player, am I right?

Maine: Tall Belgian? Makes huge shots?

Delle Donne is regular-season MVP … but is Emma Meesseman the Mystics’ postseason MVP?

Voepel: EDD is a phenomenal player, and obviously the cornerstone of the Mystics. But what a playoff run Meesseman has had. She’s averaging 20.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in the postseason and shooting 59.2% from the field, 57.7% from behind the arc. Her three consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of Game 3 could have prompted more fire emojis from LeBron James.

Maine: They don’t call her “Playoff Emma” for nothing. She has had a real breakout performance in the postseason and has attracted Belgian media to the WNBA Finals. For whom she can speak in five (and maybe six) different languages. She has stepped up when the Mystics have really needed it in an MVP-ish way.

Voepel: It’s nice to have a 6-foot-4 player who can shoot from all over the court to complement your 6-5 player who can do the same thing. We’ve watched Meesseman grow into this role since she was drafted in the second round in 2013. Almost nobody knew then how good she was. We all know now.

Maine: Except for her. Meesseman has been called the “missing piece” this season by the Mystics, who missed her last season when she didn’t play in the WNBA. But she thinks she’s doing nothing special, just what the team needs.

Voepel: Or to put it in her words, “I hit my open shots.” That’s as far as she’ll go to singing her own praises. Which is impossible to get her to do. Believe me, I’ve tried.

These teams know each other so well by now. How will Tuesday go?

Voepel: It’s hard to see the Sun losing two games in a row on their home court. We might be headed back to D.C.

Maine: I agree. The Mystics have had their Paul Pierce moment with Delle Donne and had a great game Sunday. But now the Sun will feed off the home crowd and force Game 5.



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