ATLANTA — The Washington Mystics decided to keep Elena Delle Donne in the post and see how the Atlanta Dream would adjust.
It worked so well that the Mystics might just stay with the same approach all series.
"My teammates have trust in me in those situations to attack and try to make the right read," Delle Donne said. "I was flowing today, so they kind of just ran the offense through me. I just had to make reads or attack."
Delle Donne had 32 points and 13 rebounds, Ariel Atkins added 15 points and the Mystics beat the Dream 87-84 in the first game of a best-of-five WNBA semifinal on Sunday.
The Mystics hit all 20 of their free-throw attempts.
Elizabeth Williams finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta, which never led. Alex Bentley's 3 pulled the Dream within three points midway through the fourth quarter, and Tiffany Hayes scored six straight points to make it a three-point game in the closing minute.
But Hayes missed an ensuing layup, and Jessica Breland couldn't hit a straightaway 3 on Atlanta's last possession before time expired.
"It wasn't pretty," Mystics guard Natasha Cloud said after scoring 13 points with a game-high six assists. "It was an ugly game, but we came out with a win."
Hayes, the Dream's season scoring leader, had 17 points but was mostly a non-factor until she was able to hit some layups in transition in the fourth quarter.
In a matchup of two of the league's hottest teams, Delle Donne was too much for Atlanta, using her size and agility to win matchups inside for layups, bank shots and forced turnovers.
She was at her best in the third after the Dream cut the lead to eight. Jessica Breland blocked her midrange jumper, but Delle Donne pulled the ball back, dribbled and pivoted to bank in a layup that made it 62-52.
"If someone else is flowing, we kind of run the offense through them," she said. "That's the way our team is — unselfish, and it's why we're successful."
The Dream had won 15 of 17, but it won't get any easier the rest of the way with Angel McCoughtry, their longtime star guard, out for the season with a knee injury sustained earlier this month.
Washington, which has won 10 of 11, got consecutive 3s by Atkins and Cloud to open the third and take its biggest lead at 15, but Atlanta stayed close and trailed by four when Monique Billings converted a three-point play in the closing seconds of the period.
Bentley's layup in the first minute of the fourth cut the lead to one, but Delle Donne answered with a layup. When Bentley hit a 3 that made it 74-71, Delle Donne followed a few minutes later with a 3 that put the Mystics up 81-71.
"I think Breland and Monique Billings did a good job on her one-on-one," Dream coach Nicki Collen said. "I think what we've got to do a better job of taking the arc away from them on Tuesday night."
FARTHER TO GO
Washington is trying to advance past the semifinals for the first time in its 21 seasons, but they're back for the second straight year after getting swept in 2017 by eventual champion Minnesota.
The Dream have ended three seasons in the finals but were swept each time.
LITTLE TOO LATE
Hayes banked in a fastbreak jumper and hit the ensuing free throw to pull Atlanta within three with 58.9 seconds to go, but her contributions were few in the first three quarters.
She was 6 for 15 from the field and hit just one of five attempts beyond the arc.
Delle Donne, who finished third in the league's MVP voting, was 10 for 22 from the field, hit all 10 of her free-throw attempts and grabbed seven offensive boards.