The Mystics went into a critical Game 3 in in Washington on Friday night unsure of the status of their biggest star, Elena Delle Donne. Nursing a bone bruise in her knee suffered in Game 2, Delle Donne was a game-time decision and was ruled out before tipoff. That meant a big adjustment for Washington, and the Dream were ready to take advantage as they outlasted the Mystics, 81-76. The loss pushes Washington to the brink down 1-2 in the best-of-5 series.
Atlanta got off to another hot start Friday, using a quick 7-0 run to set the tone early. They did it attacking the paint, something that would prove to be critical as both teams struggled from long range on the night. The Dream were led all night by Tiffany Hayes, who tallied 23 points to go with 11 rebounds to lead the game. Three other Atlanta scorers reached double-figures, with Brittney Sykes scoring 17 and Elizabeth Williams adding 14 (eight rebounds).
Washington put up a fight without its leader for all 40 minutes Friday, answering numerous Atlanta runs thanks in large part to Aerial Powers (18 points, eight rebounds) and Ariel Atkins (17 points, eight rebounds). The young guards stepped in to fill the scoring void, but also led the Mystics to take an advantage on the boards with a gritty performance despite their size.
One of the league’s top 3-point shooting teams all season, Washington couldn’t find it’s rhythm from deep on Friday. Kristi Toliver was limited to just seven points on 1-of-9 shooting from deep, and the team hit just 5-of-23 (21.7 percent) on the night.
Without the 3-point threat, the Mystics found themselves chasing the game for most of the second half. Still, their fight was impressive, particularly in cutting a 10-point Atlanta lead down and taking the lead briefly towards the end of the third quarter. Powers and Atkins led the 12-1 run that gave Washington a brief lead and helped make the game manageable heading into the fourth down just two.
The Dream answered the Washington spark that ended the third quarter with a short 10-4 run of their own to start the fourth, digging a hole for the Mystics that would prove difficult to climb out of. Atlanta saved their best for last offensively, shooting 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range in the final frame to lead by as many as 11 and put the game out of reach for Washington.
Next, the Mystics will try to fend off elimination on Sunday at George Washington University’s Charles E. Smith Center. Tipoff in Game 4 is still TBD.