Is Emma Meesseman the missing piece to Mystics' first WNBA title?

Editor's note: This story originally appeared on Sept. 21 during the WNBA semifinals. Emma Meesseman hit all four of her 3-point attempts Tuesday as the Washington Mystics clinched a return trip to the WNBA Finals with a 94-90 victory over the Las Vegas Aces. LeBron James seemed to appreciate Meesseman's game on Tuesday with this tweet.

WASHINGTON -- Back home, Emma Meesseman's mother doesn't rely on a clock to rouse her for the Washington Mystics' evening games, which come on around 1 or 2 a.m. in Belgium.

"My mom has, like, an internal alarm; she just wakes up on her own," said Meesseman, whose father is also an avid fan but often stays asleep. "I'm always telling her not to watch, because I know she's going to be stressed out and won't be able to go back to sleep again."

There might be a lot more sleepless nights in her mom's immediate future, as the Mystics are one victory away from the WNBA Finals after taking a 2-0 lead in their semifinal series with the Las Vegas Aces.

Behind league MVP Elena Delle Donne, Washington had the best offensive rating in WNBA history this season. But there's much more to the Mystics' attack than Delle Donne, and the past two games, it's been Meesseman. She shot a combined 23-of-37 from the field (7-of-11 from 3-point range) and 4-of-4 from the free throw line for 57 points. And she's had a combined 16 rebounds and 7 assists.

"It's amazing. She's so efficient; she's one of the best players in the world," Delle Donne said. "Moments like this where she steps up and takes over are phenomenal."

When one of the best players in the world is calling you the same, that's pretty cool. Unless you're the chronically humble, low-key Meesseman. After Thursday's 30-point performance, she said, "I just move and take my open shots; that's all I did. There's not much to say about that."

There's actually a lot to say about the less-publicized part of the star duo. Delle Donne and Meesseman, who are 6-foot-5 and 6-4, respectively, aren't exact clones of each other in terms of playing style, but they're very similar, and extremely effective.

"They have really learned this year how to play off each other," Mystics coach Mike Thibault said of their second season playing together. "They look for each other. They know they can make each other better. Those two together can be as good as there is in this league."

No one could have predicted that in April 2013, when Delle Donne was the No. 2 pick overall by Chicago after a stellar college career at Delaware, and Meesseman was the No. 19 choice whose name kept being misspelled.

"And not even our first pick in the second round," Thibault said, chuckling. "We took her with our second second-round pick. I'd watched her on film, and called my friends in Europe and asked them. But I'd never really seen her play in a meaningful game. We got lucky on Emma."

Indeed, to look at the 2013 draft selections and see some of the players who were taken before Meesseman, through the lens we have now, it seems absurd. But she was just a month from turning 20 then, and even basketball junkie-types like Thibault hadn't seen much of her.

But she also tended to play a quiet game, looking to pass to open teammates because that's how she was taught basketball should be played. It took time for Thibault to convince her there is nothing selfish about taking shots when you're a great shooter.

Even though he didn't know exactly how big a gem he'd drafted, Thibault expected Meesseman to make the team in 2013. She had no such belief.

"She brought enough clothes for two weeks," Thibault recalled. "She thought I was going to cut her and send her home. She had no idea she could make this league. She is very unpretentious. She just thought, 'Oh, I'll go see what it's like.' "

Meesseman's mother, Sonja, was also a very good basketball player in Belgium, but more a true center. Meesseman can hit face-up shots and post up, and she sees the court well. And, as already established, she loves to pass.

Her first season in the WNBA, Meesseman came off the bench and averaged 4.4 points. But she's been a starter ever since, averaging 10.1 points in 2014, 11.6 in 2015 and 15.2 in 2016. Then in 2017, the Mystics traded for Delle Donne, and the duo clicked. Delle Donne averaged 19.7 points that season, Meesseman 14.1.

Last season, Meesseman knew she needed a break. Even though she was just 25 then, she'd been playing almost year-round for six years. She stayed home, trained with her national team and spent time with her family. She watched from afar and was proud of the Mystics for making the WNBA Finals.

Seattle swept Washington, but everyone was thinking the same thing: Wait until Emma gets back. Except her, of course. She didn't see herself as the potential missing piece to a championship, because that's just not her personality. But Delle Donne and Thibault knew that was the case. So did fellow Belgian national team member Kim Mestdagh, who is also playing for the Mystics this season.

"She's really, really, really down to earth -- maybe sometimes a little bit too much," Mestdagh said. "It wouldn't be bad if she knew how great she was and how much she means for us in Belgian basketball. Sometimes we're like, 'You are Emma. The Emma.' "

"They have really learned this year how to play off each other. ... They know they can make each other better. Those two together can be as good as there is in this league." Mike Thibault, on Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman

The Mystics have worked on convincing her of that, too. This season, although she was away for 11 games with the Belgian team during the European championships, she's been a crucial piece for Washington, averaging 13.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists in the regular season. And now she's led the way in the playoffs as the Mystics are a victory from their second consecutive WNBA Finals.

"I was 19 when I came here, so I've learned in every single aspect of the game and just about life," Meesseman said. "I've met a lot of different people that have helped me on my way. I try to learn from all the players I play with; how they look at the game."

Teammate LaToya Sanders said the essence of Emma is, "She's got the mindset of a kid who's just started playing sports, and they just want to play all day long. Even though she's been playing professionally since she was a teenager.

"She's the one who gets mad when we have two days off. She doesn't mind the first day, but then she's like, 'I need to practice.' She still finds the joy in just playing."

Meesseman said she will tell her mom once again before Sunday's Game 3 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2) to just get a good night's sleep, but she knows she'll probably wake up as usual. And with the way Meesseman has been playing, it's something her mom doesn't want to miss.