The District of Columbia was abuzz Saturday night, as the New York Liberty rolled into town to face off against the Washington Mystics in their season opener. As fans packed into the Verizon Center (a nice collection of fathers and daughters, youth teams and kids eagerly waiting for their moment to hit the "dab"), the entire Mystics roster entered the arena personally announced through clouds of artificial smoke.
Some, like Stefanie Dolson, played to the crowd dancing and throwing up her number 31 on her hands. Others, like Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, hobbled out as best she could in a walking boot, after suffering an ankle injury in the preseason. Hobbled or dancing, the 20th season of the WNBA was upon us.
The first half began as well as it could have for Washington, with hot starts from the usual suspects: Dolson and Tayler Hill. Dolson was able to assert herself her usual high-low game with her craftiness around the basket, and extended shooting around the key. Hill found herself right on the money in the first half and finished with a team-high 18 points.
Another brief bright spot for the Mystics came from rookie Kahleah Copper, who poured in 7 points and snagged 2 steals in her WNBA debut. After the game, Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said, "she competed in her first game and nothing but a bright future for her."
On the other side of the basketball, Tina Charles and Sugar Rodgers got going for the Liberty, which led to a tie game at 45 points at the half. Charles was nearly perfect from the left side of the floor.
In the third quarter, the Liberty created some distance from the Mystics with second chance baskets in bunches, namely Charles thrashing her way to the ball in traffic, and easy lay-ups, on account of porous Washington defense and crisp New York ball movement.
Washington showed flickers of life in the fourth quarter from an inspired Bria Hartley, who had 16 points in eight minutes off the bench. Thibault called her, one of "the more encouraging spots" in the game. The Liberty quickly put out that light in the last two minutes, as Charles continued to wear down the Washington defense, the Mystics had some timely turnovers, and went cold on offense.
After the game, Coach Thibault called his team "a mixed bag right now" on account of the injuries to point guard Ivory Latta and Ruffin-Pratt. "The season doesn't stop for us," Thibault said, "so we've got to figure it out."
The Mystics will have another chance to do just that on their home floor this Wednesday at 7 p.m. when they host the Dallas Wings.