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Aces struggle to slow Mystics’ Emma Meesseman in WNBA semifinals

Updated September 20, 2019 - 3:17 pm

She picks. She pops. She shoots. She scores.

Turning Washington Mystics and WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne to a secondary scorer — through the first two games of the WNBA semifinals — was easy when Emma Meesseman was hitting her shots.

“It’s easier to take my shot when it goes in,” the Mystics forward said Thursday after making five 3-pointers and scoring 30 points against the Aces. “They left me open.”

The 26-year-old Belgian is having her way with Las Vegas, picking, popping and rolling her way to uncontested shots all over the floor against a defense scrambling to stop the flow of Washington’s spread pick-and-roll offense. Meesseman led Washington in scoring in each of the first two games, and is shooting 62.1 percent from the field — including 63.6 percent from 3-point distance — while averaging 28.5 points and 8.0 rebounds.

The Aces trail 2-0 in the best-of-five series. Game 3 is 2 p.m. Sunday at Mandalay Bay Events Center.

“We’re going to have to make some adjustments as coaches and players,” Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said Thursday. “It’s one of those things where we’re going to have to look at the tape and figure out how to solve that problem.”

Meesseman has flashed this kind of brilliance throughout her six-year WNBA career, but doesn’t typically get the offensive volume required to generate those kind of numbers. She holds career averages of 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds on 52.1 percent shooting from the field and 39.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc — and averaged 13.1 points per game on 55.2 percent shooting in 23 games this season.

She played mostly as a reserve this year, logging six starts, but Mystics coach Mike Thibault has utilized her as a starter in the semifinals against an Aces’ frontcourt that is better defending near the basket. Her perimeter shooting presents palpable challenges for Aces forwards and centers, who have struggled to contain the dribble penetration of Washington’s ball handlers and recover when she pops for open jumpers.

“She ain’t missing any shots,” Aces center Liz Cambage said. “It really just comes down to our rotations at the moment and just figuring that out.”

Meesseman also is skilled enough with her handle to attack switches and slither toward the basket to score or pass. She sat out the 2018 WNBA season and was not with the Mystics during their run to last year’s WNBA Finals.

But she’s back now as their missing piece. And she’s better than ever.

All at the expense of the Aces.

“She’s been rejuvenated,” Thibault said Thursday. “She was aggressive. She was looking for the ball. There’s a whole different body language to her about this right now.”

More Aces: Follow at reviewjournal.com/aces and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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