WASHINGTON — Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud are finally WNBA champions.
Delle Donne, the Delaware-born star and this year’s MVP, and Cloud, the Broomall native and St. Joseph’s product, led the Washington Mystics to an 89-78 win over the Connecticut Sun in the decisive Game 5 of the WNBA Finals on Thursday night.
Delle Donne, who battled three herniated discs throughout the series and had to miss Game 3 because of the pain, scored 21 points. Cloud scored 18, including some big shots down the stretch.
“It feels phenomenal,” Delle Donne said. “To win this, and win this with such a great group of people, I think that’s what makes this so special. … We’re going to remember this season because we were around such incredible people, and we absolutely adore being together.”
The first half was tight, and tightly-officiated. Neither team ever led by more than six points, and the referees whistled 18 fouls.
Delle Donne started slowly, shooting just 1-for-4 in the first quarter, but ended the half as Washington’s leading scorer with 10 points. Cloud had seven.
“When you’re talking about playing for the players to the left and the right of you, and being a leader of this team, being one of the captains and pushing through, that’s a huge testament,” Cloud said about Delle Donne’s performance.
Delle Donne returned the praise.
“To be on a team that could carry me when I wasn’t 100 percent really means a lot,” she said. “To just get over this hump and be able to push through when not feeling great.”
At the end of the night, Delle Donne had made 8 of 16 field goal attempts and recorded 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal — and just 2 fouls.
“I felt pretty decent today, and I also knew this was the last game,” Delle Donne said. “I can rest now. So I felt like was able to give a little bit more.”
For much of the night, it seemed she wouldn’t get there. In the first half, the Mystics let Connecticut shoot 17-for-35 from the floor. Fortunately for the home team, the margin at halftime was just 43-42.
The Sun opened the third quarter with an 8-2 run, and though Washington twice rallied to draw even, Connecticut held a 64-62 lead heading into the fourth.
Cloud came up big 50 seconds into the quarter, with a three-pointer to put the Mystics up, 65-64. Then they got a stop, and Delle Donne drove for a powerful layup.
Connecticut refused to go away, though, especially Harrisburg-area native Alyssa Thomas. She led all scorers on the night with 25 points.
It took an Emma Meesseman interception between Cloud scoring a three and a layup with 6:26 to play for Washington to have even an inch of breathing room.
Finally, with 4:22 left, Mystics veteran Kristi Tolliver broke the Sun’s resistance when she dashed for a layup to put the home team up, 76-72.
After Delle Donne put Washington up, 78-72, Thomas missed a floater so open that even the home crowd was surprised. Meesseman scored at the other end, and Mystics fans at last started to believe.
Meesseman, who had a team-high 22 points off the bench, was named series MVP.
Just as Delle Donne had a winding road to the top of the sport — UConn to Delaware to Chicago to Washington — so did Cloud. She started her college career at Maryland, and when she transferred to St. Joe’s she knew she was going out of the spotlight. But the Mystics kept an eye on her, and drafted her in 2015. She has been in Washington ever since.
“In all these years, I’m still not perfect. There’s still a lot of room to grow,” she said. “But I’d definitely take my path and my journey, and I’m proud of myself for where I am now to where I was then. Because if you would have asked anyone, no one expected me to be here.”
Mystics fans have wanted to be here for a long time, but they’ve been stuck with a lot of bad teams. Washington has failed to make the playoffs 10 times, and won just one playoff series before 2017.
But when Delle Donne came east from Chicago in a trade that year, the team’s fortunes finally turned. The Mystics made the semifinals in 2017, the Finals last year, and this year finally won it all.
And this wasn’t their only triumph. This season, the Mystics moved out of the 20,000-seat Capital One Arena downtown to become a primary tenant in a brand-new, city-owned, 4,200-seat, purpose-built facility east of the District’s Anacostia River — an area that hasn’t fully shared in the rest of the city’s renaissance.
The stands were packed with fans of every background, and instead of their voices being lost in a big bowl, they made a raucous racket all night. Wizards players John Wall and Bradley Beal sat courtside, and Vivica A. Fox was among the celebrities in attendance.