Elena Delle Donne has the Washington Mystics in the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, where they’ll face Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm.
The star forward came to Washington last year to try and lead the Mystics to a championship. She has them one step away.
“D.C.’s become home to me,” said Delle Donne, who grew up about two hours north in Delaware. “Now we need the city to rally behind us because we’re not finished yet.”
Bird chose to stay in Seattle a few years ago while the franchise was rebuilding. Now she’ll get a chance to win her third WNBA championship.
“It’s been a great run,” said Bird, who scored 14 of her 22 points in the final 5:48 of a 94-84 win over Phoenix in the semifinals Tuesday night. “When the season started I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and now we’re in the Finals.”
Game 1 is Friday night in Seattle.
The two stars helped their teams win decisive Game 5s and advance to the championship round. Both players did so while overcoming injuries from earlier in their series.
Delle Donne sustained a bone bruise in her left knee during Game 2 that forced her to miss the third game of the series. Bird broke her nose in Game 4 and sat out the second half. Yet with the season on the line, both stepped up.
They certainly didn’t do it alone. Washington rookie Ariel Atkins was instrumental, leading her team with 20 points and seven rebounds Tuesday in an 86-81 victory over Atlanta.
“My goodness did Ariel Atkins step up for us. She’s not a rookie,” Delle Donne said.
League MVP Breanna Stewart scored 28 points to lead the Storm, and reserve Sami Whitcomb had 11 crucial points off the bench.
“You have to take your hat off to the heart that we had down the stretch. … We really dug in,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said. “Watching Sue Bird have the presence in that moment. I played Stewie for the first time 40 minutes, and then you get a player like Sami Whitcomb who trains like no other and was ready for a big moment. So a lot of things that we had to dig to get, and that’s what you’ve got to do to advance. Advance we will.”
Here are a few other tidbits looking ahead to the Finals:
Either Washington coach Mike Thibault or Hughes will win his first WNBA title. Thibault had reached the finals twice before with Connecticut in 2004 and 2005 before falling just short. The 2004 loss came against Bird and the Storm.
Hughes had one shot at a title in 2008 when he was coaching in San Antonio before the Silver Stars lost to the Detroit Shock.
After a regular season that featured parity around the league, it was fitting both semifinals came down to decisive games.
“It’s great for the league. The more we can be on television and be visible, it’s a good thing. So, I think this year shows just how equal the league is,” Mystics star Kristi Toliver said. “All the teams are really, really great. We should be very thankful and lucky — well, not lucky, we earned the right to be here — but it’s a tough league. For this series to go to five, for Phoenix and Seattle to go to five, it’s just the female players in the world doing what they do. And it’s great that everybody gets to see that.”
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
The Mystics will play their home games at George Mason. Washington’s normal home — the Capital One Arena — is being renovated. The Mystics played their semifinal home games at George Washington’s arena, but that also has a conflict.
AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle and Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this story.
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