Chicago, IL -- Round one goes to the Washington Mystics.
While everyone had their calendars circled for today’s game to watch Elena Delle Donne make her return to Chicago in Mystic red, it was her teammates that provided most of the highlights, rebounding from a slow first quarter to beat the Chicago Sky (1-3) 82-67 on Wednesday afternoon.
Ivory Latta, Tianna Hawkins and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt all took advantage of the extra attention Delle Donne received, scoring in double digits. Ruffin-Pratt served as both scorer and board cleaner, putting up 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The pregame interactions, while civil, set the tone for this high-paced, yet personal game. Sky forward Jessica Breland gave Delle Donne a hug, while others preferred to give fist bumps, letting her know while no love is lost, it's all business on the court.
For Delle Donne, her first visit back was a surreal experience.
“Definitely feels weird coming in here, being in the guest locker room, being on the other bench and all. But my teammates, they’ve been great and even in the locker room they’re like ‘how you feeling,’ ‘you good, you good?’ Just checking on me and that made me relax,” Delle Donne said.
Delle Donne wasted no time getting started, winning the jump ball and getting the first basket of the game. Chicago responded with an unexpected scoring flurry from Allie Quigley (in her first game this season), who couldn’t miss in the first quarter. Quigley made two threes, scoring eight points in the quarter; even Tamera Young got in on the action. Young made her first three on the day, and Chicago ended the first quarter with a 22-20 lead.
Washington picked up the pace in the second, with Hawkins making two three-pointers in a two-minute span. Chicago kept up, but it was their inability to make layups that also kept them behind. Delle Donne made two free throws to end the half, putting the Mystics ahead 43-41.
Chicago started off the second half sluggish, picking up a violation for delay of game. The team missed five of their first six shots, with their only point coming from a free throw by Young. Washington began to pull away, using a spirited push from Delle Donne, Hawkins and Ruffin-Pratt to give the Mystics a 58-53 lead going into the final quarter.
For Ruffin-Pratt, her performance in the game was a positive sign of things to come.
“I needed this game. The last two games I’ve shot the ball not too great, so this was a good game for me. My teammates were looking for me and getting me the ball in the right position, so it’s something that will help my confidence build up,” Ruffin-Pratt said.
The fourth quarter is where the chips fell in Washington’s favor. Delle Donne went off in the final quarter, scoring nine of her 21 points in the frame. The rest of her Washington teammates took notice and stepped up their overall game to match. Ivory Latta poured in a layup and a clutch three, and the defense held Chicago to only 14 points in the final quarter.
Washington head coach Mike Thibault was glad to see the defense step up when they did, holding Chicago to 30 percent shooting from the field.
“We tried to take away layups and threes from them as best we could. We had a few breakdowns, but we tried to make it tough and not give them second shots. One of the things they’re so good at with all their length is they’re usually a good offensive rebounding team, and that’s been focus for us since day one of training camp and we’re getting better at it,” Thibault said.
Chicago, despite being held under their season average for points, did get even contributions from their starting lineup, with Cappie Pondexter (17 pts, 10 ast) and Stefanie Dolson (13 pts, 11 reb) getting double-doubles. Quigley and Young also scored in double figures for the Sky.
Despite outrebounding Washington 51 to 48, the Mystics led in basically every other offensive category
Dolson, despite getting the double-double, felt that the Sky held their own, but could’ve done better.
“I thought we fought really hard. Our defense was kind of a new thing we were practicing this past week and I thought we executed pretty well. We competed hard. We gave up, me especially, I gave up too many offensive rebounds towards the end, which I’m really disappointed in myself. We just got to get back on the court and get ready for Friday,” Dolson said.
The Sky will get two more chances to prove they are the more dominant team, and the next chance isn’t too far away. The next matchup is this Friday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. at 7:00 p.m. EST.