Bringing it home: Washington Mystics earn first WNBA crown

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Elena Delle Donne felt cursed. Every time she made it to the game’s biggest stage, she was hindered by injuries.

This time around it was three herniated disks in her back. The league’s MVP wouldn’t let that keep her from her first WNBA championship.

Emma Meesseman scored 22 points and Delle Donne added 21 to help the Washington Mystics beat the Connecticut Sun 89-78 on Thursday night in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Finals.

“Every time I get the Finals, something happens,” Delle Donne said. “I think I pissed the basketball gods off when I decided to step away (in college). I hope this ends the drama that I’m having in the Finals.”

It was the first title in franchise history.

“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.

Delle Donne scored four points during a decisive 8-0 run that gave the Mystics an 80-72 lead with under three minutes left. But it was Meesseman, the soft-spoken Belgian who unveiled a new, aggressive “Playoff Emma” persona during the title run, who was named MVP of the Finals.

Meesseman missed last season while playing 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,” she said.

Delle Donne, a seven-year veteran and two-time MVP, came to Washington three years ago in a trade from Chicago, hoping to get the Mystics their first title. She grew up about an hour from the city in Delaware and wanted to be closer to home.

Delle Donne sat out a year in college when she transferred in the summer before her freshman season from UConn to Delaware to be closer to her sister Lizzie, who is blind, deaf and has cerebral palsy.

“Lizzie has been my journey, and some people have never understood my decisions. Others have. But she’s been my path, and somehow she’s gotten me to this moment,” Delle Donne said. “You know, it’s been a crazy journey. It’s been my own path. It’s been different from everyone else’s. I’ve just kind of believed in it, and you’ve got to follow your heart, and I’ve always trusted in her. Another reason I can battle through injury is like she’s been dealt the worst cards possible with her disabilities, and every day she gets up, she smiles, she laughs, she loves. So she’s always just been my inspiration.”

Delle Donne has battled injuries and illnesses all season, breaking her nose early in the year. She still wears a mask to protect it. She also wears a knee brace on her right knee after suffering a bone bruise in last year’s Finals.

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.

The game got off to a slow start with choppy play, but it picked up during a back-and-forth second half.

The Mystics trailed by nine midway through the third quarter before rallying within two at the end of the period. The teams traded the lead in the final period until Delle Donne hit a tough fadeaway midway through the quarter. After a Connecticut miss, Kristi Toliver — the only player on either team who had won a title before — drove down the lane and hit a beautiful finger-roll layup to give the Mystics a 76-72 lead.

Delle Donne added another basket, and Meesseman capped the run with a jumper.

“Emma went to work inside. Elena does what she does. You have to beat them by defending them. All the players stepped up in the fourth quarter when we needed it,” Thibault said.

Connecticut could only get within six points the rest of the way.

“They were just better down the stretch,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “Defensively, it wasn’t anything more than they were really physical. They were the physical team down the stretch when they needed it.”

Delle Donne got the final rebound and hugged her teammates at center court as the final buzzer sounded.

Jonquel Jones had 25 points for the Sun and Alyssa Thomas added 21 points and 12 rebounds.

Delle Donne said the team was aware that the only thing missing from its coach’s resume was the championship and was thrilled to help give him his first.

The two shared a long embrace at center court as confetti rained down after the game.

“I said I was very happy that I am one of the players and this team was able to bring him something that he hasn’t done yet,” Delle Donne said of their postgame celebration.

Meesseman got rolling when the Mystics desperately needed her, with Connecticut leading by nine. She scored 11 points in the third period on array of post moves and outside shots to get the Mystics within 64-62 heading into the final quarter.

Meesseman said her motivation was simple.

″“The trophy,” she said. “It’s a championship game. That’s all I need. I’m just playing basketball. Today I just shot my shot.”

ALL RISE

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan was in the crowd. Thibault met her once on a flight and the two struck became friendly. The Mystics visited the Supreme Court in June.

3-POINT STRUGGLES

After being the best 3-point shooting team during the season, the Mystics couldn’t hit many shots from behind the arc on Thursday night. They were 4-for-19.

TIP-INS

Game 5 held to form with the other four as the team that led after the first quarter went on to win. Washington led 23-20 after one period and Connecticut led by one at the half. … Mystics assistant coach Eric Thibault, Mike’s son, is getting married next weekend. … Connecticut lost in the Finals for the third time. They did it under Mike Thibault in 2004 and ’05.

Raptors drop Kawhi Leonard tribute video

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Wednesday night, Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto for the first time since leaving the team last summer to head to Los Angeles.

Unlike most returns in recent years, there will not be boos — Toronto will welcome Leonard back with open arms. He won them a ring, there are no hard feelings.

The Raptors already dropped a tribute video on Twitter.

Well done, Raptors.

It’s going to be fun to see his return, which will be a celebration — and should be a good game.

Ja Morant admits he was thinking about cameras on baseline during return to court

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Monday night, Grizzlies star rookie Ja Morant returned to the court after missing four games with what was officially called “back spasms,” but in reality was him recovering from his back hitting a courtside cameraman after a fall.

Morant scored 26 to lead the Warriors to a win in Golden State, but he admitted to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that when he drove the lane and went up he thought about his landing spot and those cameramen.

Following the contest, Morant acknowledged that instead of solely focusing on being the best version of himself, he occasionally found himself thinking about the proximity of camera operators while driving in the paint.

“It’s tough because I know I just have to do more controlled jumps now,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “But at the same time, I’m just trying not to think about it and still try to play my game. It’s just a tough situation all the way around, honestly….

“I just think player safety should be first and foremost. How I play and where I end up, [cameramen] are right there. Personally, I like to attack the rack, and I feel like that injury came from me attacking the rack and it was just nowhere to land for me.”

Morant echoes the concern of a lot of players and coaches.

The NBA is aware of the issue, back in 2014 they reduced the number of cameramen on the baseline by half (down to 10 per side) and created a four-foot-wide “runway” on either side of the stanchion that players can run up if they have a full head of steam.

That’s not close to eliminating the problem. The NBA is not going to remove those cameras — the NBA is in the entertainment business, and those cameras provide some of the best video angles and still shots to show fans — but expect it to take another look and review its process here.

What we don’t want to happen is the game loses a promising young player like Morant for a lot more than four games after a run-in with a cameraman.

Bulls’ Otto Porter out at least one more month with fractured foot

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The Chicago Bulls miss Otto Porter. He was a starter on the wing for nine games, scoring 11.2 points per game, hitting 40 percent of his threes, playing solid defense, and the Bulls offense was 8.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he was on the court. He’s a steadying influence as a veteran.

However, he has been out the last 16 games with a foot injury, and he’s going to miss at least another month, the Bulls announced Tuesday. The Bulls said Porter saw a specialist and he “confirmed the bone injury and healing response in Porter’s left foot consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”

What that means for Porter is another month in a boot.

Chandler Hutchison‘s bruised shoulder has him in street clothes, too, which means Kris Dunn will remain the starter for now. Denzel Valentine has used a bump in minutes to show some growth in his game, play fairly well, and make a push for even more run of late.

But without Porter, the Bulls are not the same.

 

 

Report: Kevin Love would prefer to play for Portland if traded

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are listening to trade offers for Kevin Love.

Love’s reaction to this is essentially “whatevs.” He’s been in the middle of trade rumors for four years now, it’s as constant and annoying in his life as taxes.

However, if he is going to get traded, he’d prefer to go home to Oregon and play for Portland, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Love would prefer to play for his hometown Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple league sources. The Blazers make perfect sense as a destination for Love; they need help for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after the team has been decimated by injuries….

The Blazers have the salaries to make a deal work with the expiring contracts of Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) or Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million).

There were previous reports Love just wants to go to a contender. That said, there is logic to him wanting to go home, and there is a good fit in Portland, a team that needed help at the four before injuries rocked the roster. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game.

Making a trade work is trickier. Bazemore has to play a much larger role after Rodney Hood was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, his availability is up for debate.

Hassan Whiteside can make the trade numbers work with his expiring contract, and Whiteside won’t be missed once Jusuf Nurkic (and even Zach Collins) returns from injury. However, the Cavaliers are going to want draft picks or young players to help with their rebuild to make this trade. Would the Blazers throw in a protected first to make this happen?

There also is this question any team trading for Love has to ask itself: Do we want to take on the three-plus years remaining on his four-year, $120 million contract? That’s a lot of money and years for an All-Star player who is productive but aging, and also has a lengthy injury history.

Portland can also try to trade for Danilo Gallinari and his expiring contract with the Thunder, which has a lot less risk involved.

Love, however, would be popular in Portland, and he would help the team.