UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Going into Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, Curt Miller and the Connecticut Sun, on the brink of elimination, knew how important it would be to get off to a strong start. In each of the previous three games of the series, the team that won the first quarter, all three times lopsidedly, ended up winning the game.
While the Sun succeeded in throwing the first punch, the Mystics didn't go down without a fight. Washington climbed all the way back to go up by four early in the fourth, but Connecticut had the last word and kept its championship hopes alive for another game, ultimately pulling out a 90-86 victory and forcing a Game 5.
The teams will compete for what will be either franchise's first WNBA title on Thursday at 8 p.m. at D.C.'s Entertainment and Sports Arena.
The pivotal play came with 2:22 left in the game when Shekinna Stricklen's 3-pointer broke a tie and gave the Sun a lead they managed to hold the rest of the way. Jasmine Thomas and Alyssa Thomas converted on all four free throw attempts in the final minutes, and D.C. didn't score in the final 2:10 of the game for the Sun to ensure their win.
The Sun had a balanced scoring night with all five starters scoring in double figures. Jonquel Jones led the way (18 points, 13 rebounds), followed by Alyssa Thomas' 17 (and 11 assists), Courtney Williams' 16 points, Stricklen's 15 and Jasmine Thomas' 14.
Washington was paced by Aerial Powers (15 points) and Ariel Atkins (14).
The Mystics may have been 40 minutes away from winning the franchise's first WNBA title, but the Sun did what they needed to do early. Connecticut bounced out to a 32-17 lead by the end of the first, with Williams leading the way with eight points and Alyssa Thomas, Stricklen, and Natisha Hiedeman adding six each. While the Mystics settled in in the second quarter, threatening to make it a single-digit game, a slew of floaters from Williams gave the Sun a 56-40 lead at the half.
The Mystics went on a 16-1 run to start the second half, closing within one, before Stricklen gave the Sun their first bucket of the second half at the 5:15 mark of the third quarter. While the Sun kept the distance at an arm's length, at one point going back up by eight, Washington ended the quarter on a 10-2 run, with a layup from Powers tying the game at 68 going into the fourth.
A Connecticut turnover to start the fourth led to layup from Tianna Hawkins, giving the Mystics their first lead since early in the first quarter, and a few minutes later a 3 from Emma Meesseman gave the Mystics a five-point advantage.
The Sun used their transition game, leading to layups from Jones and Jasmine Thomas, to tie it back up at 77 with 5:35 remaining.
After trading baskets, the Sun earned their first lead since the third quarter off a 3 from Jasmine Thomas, before Meesseman answered back with one of her own and Stricklen nailed the shot that gave the Sun the lead for good.