Star power was missing when the Sun needed it the most
Mohegan – This was the day. This was the time. Tied championship series. In your arena. That's sold out and ready to detonate.
This was the stage where greatness manifests. Where stars embrace the struggle and blossom.
And so maybe it's not such a false narrative after all that the Connecticut Sun don't have any stars. Oh, they've wrangled many miles from that one in the past month, painting themselves as aggrieved and disrespected at the perception that there are no "stars" playing here.
Maybe there aren't.
Because star players, with the circumstances confronting them Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena, would certainly not have pouted their way to a 94-81 loss to Washington, a group whose poise was almost as noticeable as its three-point accuracy.
And now the Sun not only blew the opportunity to win a championship at home — but might face the indignity of losing one on their home floor Tuesday night.
The stat sheet says the Sun were outrebounded (34-27). That Courtney Williams and Jonquel Jones shot a combined 5-for-17. All factors. Just not as relevant as the ill-timed bouts of group immaturity.
Note to the Connecticuts: The other team gets to make shots, too. And the reaction when things aren't going well isn't generally to beat the other team up or grouse about every perceived slight from the officials. It was a bad look. It was unbecoming. And it had no place in the swing game of the championship series.
Think about this: Washington coach Mike Thibault didn't know when he awakened Sunday morning whether Elena Delle Donne, battling back pain, would play. Thibault said he didn't know 35 minutes before game time. Neither did his players. Washington's pregame predicament was awash in ambiguity, surrounding whether their anchor would play against a healthy, hungry opponent about to defend its sold-out home court. If ever a group had reason to be anxious, the Mystics were Exhibit A.
But they reacted as champions do.
"I was talking about Taj McWilliams yesterday," Thibault was saying after the game, alluding to his days coaching the Sun and one of the best players in Connecticut history. "One of the things I always appreciated about her and all the great players is their calm when the most crazy stuff was going on. Emma (Meesseman, 21 points off the bench) and Elena were both calm when it mattered the most. Great players make their name in games like this. Or they cement them."
Delle Donne, who was moving gingerly, scored 13 points in 26 minutes. Quite the effort. But this was more about her teammates and their laser beam focus. This was about 20 points from Kristi Tolliver and 19 more from Natasha Cloud. This was about going on the road in a daunting environment and raining threes. Go figure: They were the downtown Mystics just a short drive away from downtown Mystic.
And when the Sun rallied late in the first half and early in the third, Washington's reaction was calmer than a lagoon. Maturity has its privileges.
More from Thibault about a potential history making night Tuesday in his old digs: "this was one win. We have a lot of work still. I'll enjoy a beer tonight and then go watch film.
"I have to be calm for my team (Tuesday). They have to know we have a plan for whatever we see. They need to know we can make an adjustment. And they have to stay on an even keel. They know this is really hard work. We've already been slapped in our building."
Note the keywords here: calm. Even keel. Hard work. Spoken as a veteran coach who knows that immaturity begets long offseasons of wouldas, couldas and shouldas.
The Mystics should have been proud of themselves for many reasons Sunday, even beyond the final score. They faced some potentially dire circumstances and responded like Clint Eastwood.
And the Sun? It appears there's still a learning curve here on the path to stardom. Some Sun players have lessons to learn. No, it's not too late. But as Yogi once said, it's getting late early around here.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro