Mystics Insider Blog
Guest Contributor – Andrew Willett
The Washington Mystics clinched a playoff spot over the weekend on its way to a 2-1 week by beating the Dallas Wings before splitting a pair at home against the Seattle Storm. The squad took down Dallas with no Elene Delle Donne (EDD) in the lineup thanks to great performances from all five starters. Washington followed up its third straight win with a loss to Seattle before beating the Storm the next day in a preview of what could be a fantastic first-round series.
The Mystics improved to 5-2 since the All-Star break behind stellar play even prior to the break, winners in eight of its last 11. Washington sits at fifth in the standings, tied with the Seattle Storm at 19-12 but without the head-to-head tiebreaker for homecourt advantage if these two teams meet in the four/five matchup of the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Mystics’ momentum continues to swing in the right direction ahead of a matchup against the second-seed Las Vegas Aces to start another three-game week.
Offensive Explosion in Dallas
Reputed as one of the best defenses in the WNBA, Washington recently took the top spot in defensive rating at 94.8. But against Dallas, the offense lifted Washington past the Wings 87-77. The Mystics dropped 80+ points for the 15th time this season to improve to 11-4 in such games. The majority of the scoring took place in a season-best56-point first half as Washington jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead behind a tremendous 35-18 start over the first 13:18 of action. The squad jumped up by as many as 21 points and handled business in the second half thanks to terrific shooting and a balanced attack.
The Mystics shot an astonishing 60% (9/15) from three (3PT%) and 56.4% from the field (FG%), assisting on 20 of 31 made field goals. Seven of nine Mystics in the rotation scored 7+ with all five starters scoring 12+. Three players – Natasha Cloud, Myisha Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins – scored 14 points. Cloud also tallied seven assists, four rebounds and two steals. Hines-Allen chipped in four rebounds, two assists and three steals. And Atkins tied her season-high with six assists. Shakira Austin and Alysha Clark each reached double-figures on tremendous efficiency. Austin put together 12 points and five rebounds on 6/7 shooting and Clark added 13 points on 5/7 shooting by hitting all three of her three-point attempts. Off the bench, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough nearly hit double-digits with nine, Elizabeth Williams scored four, Rui Machida tallied three assists, and Tianna Hawkins played 10+ minutes for the first time since July 3rd to score seven points.
Battle vs. Seattle
The weekend back-to-back served as a preview for a potentially phenomenal first-round series between the Washington Mystics and Seattle Storm. Each game came down to the final minute with the final deficit landing at five points or less. In Mystics/Storm round one back on June 23rd, Seattle came out on top 85-71. While the final deficit looks large, the fourth quarter decided the outcome as Seattle erupted on a 16-4 run to close the game. Round two yielded similar results with Seattle stampeding its way to a 70-55 lead early in the fourth quarter behind a 16-0 run, but this time Washington threw a punch in return. The Mystics stormed back to within one 78-77 with 26 seconds to go before running out of clock in the 82-77 loss.
EDD returned to action to lead all scorers with 22 points alongside Austin’s double-double of 10 points and 10 boards in an epic frontcourt battle of EDD/Austin vs. Seattle’s Bre Stewart and Tina Charles. Austin picked up her fourth double-double on the season, tied for the most amongst all Mystics with Cloud who picked up double-doubles in both Seattle games. Against WNBA all-time assists leader Sue Bird, Cloud collected her fifth 10+ assist game of the season as she recorded 5+ assists for the 26th time in 29 games played. She leads the WNBA in assists per game at 7.3.
The Mystics made one key adjustment along with a big-time performance from Atkins. Washington dominated the paint. From Saturday to Sunday, the Mystics turned a +2 advantage in the rebounding category into a plus +8, allowing only 2 offensive rebounds after giving up 8 extra possessions the day before. Washington also held Seattle to just 20 points in the paint, once again proving the importance of getting the ball inside for the Mystics. In the loss, Washington got outscored 34-30 in the paint before winning 34-20 a day later to improve to 17-5 when winning the points in the paint battle. Atkins added a smooth 23 points on 8/17 shooting with four triples to lead the way for Washington before Delle Donne stopped the rain in the fourth quarter to give the Mystics its first win of the season against fourth-seed Seattle, 78-75. EDD scored six of Washington’s final ten points in a passionate end to a very successful month of July. The Mystics finished 5-2 with her in the lineup as she averaged 22.3 points per game(PPG) and 6.6 rebounds per game (RPG) behind 55.4% FG%, 48.3% 3PT%, and96.8% free throw percentage (FT%) for the month.
With five games remaining for Washington until postseason play begins in the WNBA, the Mystics wrap up a three-game homestand with a game vs. the Las Vegas Aces on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET. Then, Washington travels to Chicago to play the Sky on Friday at 8 p.m. ET before finishing the week back home at Entertainment and Sports Arena vs. the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.
Each game holds importance if Washington wants to move up the standings and secure any amount of homecourt advantage for the playoffs, but the squad solidified itself around fifth in the standings and stands poised for a deep run.