Mystics back in familiar territory in WNBA semis

UPDATE (Wednesday, August 29): Mystics drop Game 2 78-75. Game 3 set for Friday at 8:00 p.m. in D.C.

UPDATE (Monday, August 27): Mystics take Game 1 87-84. Game 2 set for Tuesday at 8:00 p.m.

The Mystics have been here before, but this time they’re looking for a different result. Their win Thursday booked a trip to Atlanta to take on the Dream in a best of 5 WNBA Semifinal series, the same spot they reached a season ago. In 2017, Washington fell to the eventual champion Lynx. Starting Sunday, they’ll look to topple an Atlanta team that’s missing its star in Angel McCoughtry (knee) for the duration of the playoffs.

Despite McCoughtry’s injury, Atlanta enters the playoffs on a red-hot run having won 15 of its past 17 games. Tiffany Hayes’ 17.2 points per game pace the Dream this season, while five others average at least eight points per contest. In Atlanta’s season finale against Las Vegas, Elizabeth Williams led the pack with 20 points, while Renee Montgomery and Jessica Breland added 16 points apiece. Alex Bentley scored 12 off the bench.

The Dream have stepped up in the absence of their biggest star, but the Mystics enter the Semifinals playing their best basketball of the season as well. In a Round 2 rout of Los Angeles on Thursday, six Washington players eclipsed double-figures, led by Elena Delle Donne’s 19-point, 12-rebound performance.

Washington’s focus on pace and intensity paid off against the 2017 WNBA finalists as they led every statistical category from rebounds to turnovers and assists. The Mystics played a complete game, navigated well by their two floor generals in Kristi Toliver and Natasha Cloud.

Scoring hasn’t been an issue this season for Washington, but what’s made them hard to beat of late is their low turnover rate (nearly the lowest in the league) and forcing more turnovers than they commit. Head coach Mike Thibault and his team have focused on the “little things”, making smart adjustments and not beating themselves. The Mystics are the best free throw shooting team in the league, helping them be the third-best team in the WNBA in effective field goal percentage. Washington has the talent, but it’s so far matched that talent with team savvy and efficiency.

All of that will now be put to the test against an Atlanta team that’s firing on all cylinders. It starts on the road Sunday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, with tipoff scheduled for 3 p.m. on ESPN2.