UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Sometimes it's just about making shots.
Amid all the chaos, past all the detailed preparation, despite any over-analysis packed into a pressure situation like this week's WNBA Finals, there is a beautiful simplicity in what becomes of the moment.
Can your players knock down enough shots?
The Washington Mystics are on the brink of a championship because they cut through the tension of Sunday's Game 3 one soft jumper at a time, tying a Finals record with 16 3-pointers in a 94-81 victory at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Connecticut Sun are on the brink of elimination because they clanked their way to 5-for-20 from beyond the arc under the brightest of basketball lights.
It's pretty simple. One group of players, the Mystics, took hold of an opportunity on which reputations are built.
Well, all was lined up for the Sun, wasn't it? They won Game 2 down in D.C. with Washington's Elena Delle Donne having to leave after three-plus minutes. They returned home to play in a building where they had won 17 of 19 games this season, and it was a tossup whether Delle Donne's ailing back would cooperate enough to allow her to even take the court.
Forget all that coming-home-to-close-it-out stuff, though. The Sun, flat from the get-go and trailing by 15 after a quarter, were picked apart by a team piecing things together.
Delle Donne suited up and participated, all right, making her first three 3-pointers and fighting through 26 minutes, scoring 13 points. She wasn't very mobile, but she was there.
And a player of her caliber just being there is enough to change everything.
"You can't rotate off the best player in the world," Sun coach Curt Miller said.
"You still have to honor her no matter where she is on the floor," Mystics coach Mike Thibault said.
Right. Give her room at your own peril even when she's … what was Delle Donne Sunday, maybe 50 percent? She needs half a breath and half a centimeter of space to get off her shot, the sweetest thing going in the sport. She is the game's most efficient player even when she's stiff as a board.
Anyway, with Delle Donne having to be accounted for, Kristi Toliver was 4-for-4 on 3s and another guard, Natasha Cloud, was 5-for-10. When your starting backcourt knocks down that many jumpers, forget it. Forward Emma Meesseman came off the bench and made 3 of 4 3s herself, including three daggers early in the fourth quarter, when the Washington lead reached 18.
It all made the Sun look helpless and, bang, one could forget the four days of build-up that was about nothing more than the uncertainty the Mystics were dealing with, leading with the complicated treatment and recovery for Delle Donne and another injury to forward Ariel Atkins (she played, too).
This isn't over, of course. Game 4 is Tuesday at Mohegan, and Game 5, if necessary, is Thursday in D.C. Thibault has been within one victory of a championship before, as coach of the Sun team that lost to Seattle in 2004, but he has yet to lift a trophy in 17 years in the league.
No, it's not over. It's hard to imagine the Mystics shooting so efficiently again Tuesday, and the Sun might only need a little tweak here and there to be more efficient themselves. And who the heck knows what would happen if this was pushed to a winner-take-all game?
Thibault's team did, however, put on the kind of show Sunday that the best championship stories are built around. The battered Mystics came into their coach's old home and shot the lights out. They were tough, cool.
"Your players make their name in games like this," Thibault said. "Or, they cement it."
Delle Donne couldn't so much as sit when checking out of the game. She stretched or rode a bike in the tunnel. On the court, she hovered around the perimeter and pulled the trigger, undaunted, when needed. She only drove the basket once, scoring from the left in the fourth quarter after the Sun had cut the Mystics' lead to 10.
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"You know you can't leave her," Thibault said. "She's going make an open shot. You just can't. She made that first one, and you could sense the crowd (being deflated). It was one of those. I'm sure (Miller) still thinks I was messing with him. He'll put out all the Pinocchio GIFs he was talking about. I literally did not know she was going to play until like 35 minutes before game time. We were right here with Plan B if we had to."
Washington wound up shooting 16-for-27 on 3-pointers and missed their final three attempts. The Mystics shot 50.7 from the field. There wasn't anything too complicated that went into it.
"They had a really good night in their simple offense," Miller said. "It's really, really simple, middle ball screen offense. And they put a great shooter on the backside. And you have to pick your poison. There's only so many ways that you can defend that."
Sometimes it's just about making shots. I remember Thibault saying that often when he arrived in Connecticut as Sun coach back in 2003, answering my long-winded questions as I tried to understand basketball and write with some authority.
He said it again Sunday, 16 years later, when his team shot its way through a moment that blinded the Sun.
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