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Emma Meesseman Proved She Can Carry The Mystics To Greatness (As Long As She Wants To Play For Them)

Illustration for article titled Emma Meesseman Proved She Can Carry The Mystics To Greatness (As Long As She Wants To Play For Them)
Photo: Alex Brandon (AP)

Going into the WNBA playoffs, it would have been fair to underestimate the impact of Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman. Though she was one of the Mystics’ most efficient scorers—she’d be in the 40-50-90 club if she had enough attempts to qualify—she often felt like a lesser version of her teammate and league MVP Elena Delle Donne. On the Mystics this year, returning from a missed 2018 season where she focused on the Belgian national team, Meesseman was a sixth woman whose limited starts and monthlong hiatus for the EuroBasket Championships kept her from being a consistent star. (She played only the eighth-most minutes of anyone on her team this season.)


But as the Mystics battled through the competition to become WNBA champs for the first time ever, their journey culminating in a do-or-die win Thursday night against the Sun, Meesseman blossomed into a dominant player. In that Game 5, after averaging just 13.1 points per game in the regular season, Meesseman scored over 20 for the third time in the series, leading her team with 22 on a spectacular 9-of-13 shooting performance. (Fifteen of those points came in the second half, where the Mystics broke a back-and-forth deadlock and powered themselves to an 89-78 win.)

Meesseman plays a lot like Delle Donne: They’re both tall ladies who are equally comfortable scoring inside and outside. In the past, that unfavorable comparison has maybe limited the praise she gets. But with Delle Donne playing through multiple herniated discs in her back (to still heroically score 21 points in Game 5), Meesseman stepped up. Her second half, particularly a third-quarter stretch where it felt like Meesseman was trying to outduel the entire Sun team on her own, was a clinic of footwork and mid-range touch that kept her team from ever falling more than a few points behind.

“I just really, really wanted to win this game, so I just came on the court, and I knew that it was a moment that we needed some energy, and I was just going at the basket and it was going in, so I just kept going,” Meesseman said afterward.

She didn’t slack on defense, either. Meesseman only averaged 0.7 blocks per game in the regular season, but her pair on Thursday night gave her five total over the last two games. And they weren’t cheap rejections, either—her hand on a three from Shekinna Stricklen, with her team up eight late in the fourth quarter, basically sealed the game and the title for Washington.

There was no doubt Meesseman would be the Finals MVP at the end of Thursday’s game. What’s less clear is where the 26-year-old’s career goes from here. Given her play for Belgium, not to mention her very successful run with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, it’s obvious that the Mystics are not Meesseman’s only priority as a player, or even much more than a side gig. Still, she proved this postseason that she is an irreplaceable asset if the Mystics want to sustain this run of success. As her contract expires, ahead of a year where Belgium is trying to qualify and then compete in the Olympics, Washington should do absolutely everything it can to make sure she sticks around.