Kristi Toliver should have worn a different shirt. The Washington Mystics’ veteran guard was not quiet about her and her team’s intentions as they walked into enemy territory in Connecticut for Game 4 of the WNBA Finals: They wanted to clinch the franchise’s first-ever championship, and they wanted to do it tonight.
But despite a hard-fought second half, and some nail-biting final minutes, the Mystics failed on Tuesday, falling to the Sun 90-86 as their upstart opponents forced a winner-take-all Game 5.
The Mystics got outworked and outplayed in the game’s first 20 minutes, dropping behind 56-40 at the break as the Sun pushed them around down low. Toliver failed to make good on her implied promise, as she was completely absent from the scoresheet, while on the opposite side, Sun forward Alyssa Thomas powered her entire team’s offense. Thomas had 14 points and 8 assists in the first half, and finished just two boards short of a triple-double.
But the Mystics turned it on in the third quarter, starting the period with a 16-3 run and ending it with the score tied at 68. Toliver did her share with a couple of threes, and without a particularly dominant performance from Elena Delle Donne, all of Washington contributed to the comeback. It was Aerial Powers and Ariel Atkins—both of whom scored a combined six points in Game 3—who led the team in scoring, with Powers getting 15 and Atkins getting 14.
Even though the roles reversed in the third quarter, and the Sun looked legitimately lost on the court, it wasn’t enough to give the Mystics a trophy. Connecticut just barely got the better of Washington in the fourth, matching the Mystics bucket-for-bucket in a blistering late-game stretch, then hitting their free throws and playing solid defense to seal the win. Shekinna Stricklen, who went 3-for-6 on the game from deep, made the triple with 2:23 left that put the Sun up for good.
The teams will head back to Washington for a decisive Game 5 on Thursday, where there’s a big question to answer before the ball is even tipped. Does Kristi Toliver have the guts to wear that shirt again?