Mystics Insider Blog – The Regular Season is Coming Down to the Wire

Mystics Insider Blog

Guest Contributor – Andrew Willett

The Washington Mystics solidified its position as the fifth-seed at 20-14 and a true contender with a week to go before the WNBA Playoffs. Last week, the Mystics followed an important victory over the Seattle Storm with an impressive win over the Las Vegas Aces. Unfortunately, the squad lost to the Chicago Sky and Los Angeles Sparks with Washington’s comeback attempts falling just short.

The back-to-back losses came off the best stretch of basketball the Mystics played all season. Washington won nine of its last 12 games, going without consecutive losses since June 23rd. With the playoffs beginning on August 17th, postseason scenarios run wild as Washington will play a home and home series with the Indiana Fever to close out the regular season.

All Bets Are Off

The Mystics took down the Aces 83-73 to secure the regular season sweep of Las Vegas, the third Mystics sweep of an opponent this season (4-0 over the Atlanta Dream and 3-0 against the Minnesota Lynx). Washington’s 3-0 record against Las Vegas equaled not only the first season-series victory over the Aces since 2019 but the first sweep over the Aces franchise since 2015 when its team was the San Antonio Stars. The win gave Washington its first 20+ win season since 2019, a vast improvement over last year’s 12-20 season.

The win over Las Vegas was a team effort as every Mystics who found the floor scored at least five points. The balanced effort started with the all-around play of Natasha Cloud who recently reached 1000 career assists. The heart-and-soul of the team put together another phenomenal game with a team-high 16 points and nine assists along with four boards and two steals. She dropped 7+ assists for the eighth time in her last 10 games as she still leads the WNBA at 7.3 APG. She also leads the WNBA with 20 7+ assist games and 28 5+ assist games this season, the most in a single season in her career.

Offensively, the squad scored 77+ points for a fifth straight game and 75+ in eight of its last ten. The 83 points came from playing together and taking care of the basketball as Washington assisted on 25 of 31 made field goals and only committed nine turnovers. The Mystics improved to 17-4 when out-assisting its opponents (25-14 over Las Vegas) and 8-1 when committing less than 10 turnovers. Defensively, the Mystics held the best offense in the WNBA – first in the WNBA at 89.7 points per game (PPG) and an offensive rating of 108.8 – to just 73 points and 14 fourth-quarter points. The game came down to the final frame when the Aces tied the game at 68 with 6:24 to play. Washington responded with a 13-0 run over the next five minutes to close the game on a 15-5 run. Not only did the squad out-rebound the Aces 38-30, but it out-scored Las Vegas in the paint 30-22 to improve to 18-5 in such games.

Fighting till the Finish

The Mystics fell to the Chicago Sky 93-83 on the road without Elena Delle Donne as the game got out of hand fast. The Mystics trailed 27-11 early and by as many as 26, but the team kept fighting. Washington brought it as close as 10 behind a 17-4 run to close the game, including a 13-0 run over a two-minute span. The Los Angeles game came down to the final possession as a controversial no-call ended the afternoon affair 79-76 with the Sparks coming out on top. Again, Washington found itself trailing by double-digits as early as the second quarter and by as many as 13. But the fight and determination shined through as the team had a complete Mystics roster with EDD back in the fold. Trailing by eight with 5:52 to play in the fourth quarter, the Mystics brought the game within 1 in just two minutes. Then, again the Mystics had two chances to either tie or take the lead in the final 17 seconds but the basketball gods would not have it.

These losses did not occur without some great individual performances as two of Washington’s bigs combined to average 37 points and 13 rebounds. Myisha Hines-Allen and Shakira Austin both exploded onto the scene. Hines-Allen dropped a season-high and team-best 21 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists on 8/15 shooting including 3/5 from three and 2/2 from the free throw line, playing a major role in the comeback attempt against Chicago. Then, against LA, she scored 20 points and collected six rebounds on 6/11 from the floor and 2/3 from distance. The Chicago outing equaled her most points since dropping 32 at Las Vegas on 6/5/21 and her three three-pointers made tied her season-best set on 6/10/22 at Minnesota. She put together back-to-back 20+ point games for the first time this season and the first time since she did it in four consecutive games from 9/6/20-9/12/20.

Following her up, Shakira Austin continued to play her best basketball as a professional with 17 points and 4 boards in just 21:42 of action against Chicago on ridiculous efficiency. She shot 6/7, a blistering 85.7% from the field as well as hitting five of seven free throws. Then, against the Sparks, she stepped up even further dropping 16 points and 10 rebounds on 6/9 shooting plus 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Not only did she drop her third straight 15+ scoring game, but she collected her fourth double-double of the season, tying Alessandra Santos de Oliveira (1998) for the second-most by a Mystics rookie in franchise history. She also holds the rookie lead for most 5+ rebound games this season at 26, passing Murriel Page (25, 1997-98) for the second-most such games in a single season by a Mystics rookie. She has heated up tremendously, averaging 13.2 PPG and 7.7 RPG over her last six games and currently sits ninth in the WNBA in field goal percentage (FG%) (minimum 20 games played).

Also stepping up for the Mystics was Evina Westbrook against Chicago as she put up a career-high 10 points on 3/4 shooting and her two three-pointers made on three attempts equaled the most in a game in her career. Then, against Los Angeles, Ariel Atkins came to play. She led the way from the start, scoring the team’s first seven points en route to a 20-point, six-rebound outing on 7/17 shooting. She responded with a big-time performance after her streak of double-digit scoring games broke at 20 games. This season, Atkins scored in double figures in 31 of 33 appearances, tied for the second most in the WNBA and reached 20+ in six games.

Playoff Scenarios

With a week to go in the regular season, Washington locked up at least a top-five seed as it holds a three-game lead over the sixth-seed Dallas Wings with the head-to-head tiebreaker. The only other team to keep an eye on would be the Seattle Storm at fourth in the standings and a half-game ahead of Washington. Two scenarios exist where the Mystics can move up to the fourth seed and take home-court advantage in the first-round. If Washington wins out while Seattle drops two of its final three games against the Chicago Sky, Minnesota Lynx, and Las Vegas Aces, Washington jumps Seattle. Or if Seattle loses all three, Washington could split with Indiana and still sit fourth in the standings. Regardless, Washington will face the Seattle Storm in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs.

Looking Ahead

Washington will play two games this week – one on the road before finishing at home – both against the Indiana Fever. But first, Washington will receive some much-deserved rest as the team does not play until Friday night when the Mystics will play its final road game of the 2022 regular season in Indiana at 7 p.m. ET. Then, as the entire W wraps up the regular season on Sunday, the Mystics will close the regular season right where it began: playing the Indiana Fever at Entertainment and Sports Arena. That game will air on ESPN3 and the NBC Sports Washington/Monumental Sports Network at 3 p.m. ET. Both games will also air on Facebook.