Local College Sports

Mystics’ season ends with a loss in the WNBA Finals, but it feels like the start of something

Mystics’ season ends with a loss in the WNBA Finals, but it feels like the start of something
The Washington Mystics, a franchise long defined by losing, now has a winning mind-set. “We don’t feel like we peaked,” all-star Elena Delle Donne said after Wednesday night’s WNBA Finals loss. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

It’s a shame it ended here, in a snarl of post-rush hour traffic in Fairfax County, and too bad it finished Wednesday night, before Washington really got to discover any sort of a rhythm in the WNBA Finals. But in what was a landmark occasion for women’s basketball in these parts — a celebration for a franchise that had, in the not-so-distant past, been rather terrible — the result easily could be distilled: The better team with the better players won, and the season is now over.

No shame in that. None at all. Consider where this season started for the Washington Mystics, with their coach, Mike Thibault, putting a preseason prognostication on the board in front of the players. Seventh or eighth in the league, it said. An afterthought, not playing for a championship.

“Our team took a look at that,” Thibault said, “and said, ‘Hell, no.’ ”

No, the Mystics didn’t get to play the most significant home game in franchise history at its downtown digs, because Capital One Arena is undergoing renovations, or in their new home across the Anacostia River that opens next season. No, the Mystics couldn’t extend the series with the Seattle Storm, because Washington’s Elena Delle Donne couldn’t offset her own Olympic teammate, Seattle’s brilliant Breanna Stewart, and the Storm’s relentless line of shooters.

And so this party at George Mason’s EagleBank Arena was a one-time affair. The Storm had its three-game sweep, 98-82, and so the Storm has its third WNBA championship. The Mystics, with a core that is now tested, are left to try for their first next summer.

Mystics fans cheer during Game 3 at EagleBank Arena. The team will have a new home next season in Southeast Washington. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Listen to them. That’s now not a hope. That’s an expectation.

“We don’t feel like we peaked and this is it,” Delle Donne said.

So even as the Finals swept out of the DMV just as quickly as they swept in, pause a bit to consider what this meant — and whether it might happen again. For this sport in this town, Wednesday’s Game 3 was nothing short of the biggest game involving a local team since the University of Maryland won the national title a dozen years ago. In the history of the WNBA, 13 franchises had reached this stage before this year. Washington was never one of them. For a team that, just seven years ago, went 11-57 over a two-season stretch, that’s not nothing.

“It was a haul,” said Thibault, who took over immediately after those dismal down times and was entrusted with…

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