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Ivory lane: How Washington’s smallest player rescued Mystics

The Washington Mystic’s Ivory Latta, Tianna Hawkins, and Natasha Cloud came off of the bench fired up and ready to lead their team to victory against the New York Liberty.

Gary Dineen - NBAE/Getty Images

Washington, DC -- Even with the Fourth of July only days away, fans, unfortunately, saw anything but fireworks as the Washington Mystics took on the New York Liberty in the Nation’s Capitol at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. With a final score of 67-54, the home team was ultimately able to take the victory. However, the low-scoring game left little to be desired for fans, who were looking to jump start their Fourth of July weekend excitement.

Even though the Liberty and the Mystics are the top two rebounding teams in the league, neither could seem to make any shots, and the game moved like molasses as each team missed basket after basket. New York hounded Washington in the first quarter and gave them no easy looks. In fact, by the end of the first 10 minutes of play, the Mystics scored only nine points, their record low of any quarter in the season.

After the first quarter, however, Washington discovered what needed to be done. With both teams struggling from the field, the Mystics realized that with their shots so far off, they needed to play great defense for a chance to win -- and that is exactly what they did.

“As far as defense, we stuck to the game plan that [Coach Thibault] wanted us to,” explained guard Ivory Latta. “And we wanted to limit some of their star players’ touches. We started off flat but you know that’s what a team is for, when a teammate is down you have to find a way to pick them up.”

By the end of the game, Washington forced a total of 21 turnovers, a season high for New York. Even though the Mystics did not score on any of them, they were able to keep the ball of out the hands of the Liberty, who ultimately ended the game shooting only at 32.3%.

Although the Mystics field goal percentage was only 30.9, they were able to make shots where it counted. Washington was perfect from the free throw line until the fourth quarter, but still ended with 21/23. Not only did the Mystics pack a punch at the line, but they also had two secret weapons that came off of the bench to bring energy to Washington’s offense.

Latta and Tianna Hawkins were able to ignite a fire offensively and, ultimately, lead the Mystics to their victory. Latta looked for energy from the crowd as she scored 4-for-6 from three-pointers and a total of 15 points. In addition, she also hit 850 career assists during the second quarter of the game.

Hawkins brought a much-needed urgency and aggression to the court as she spent the majority of the game hanging around the basket and attacking the rim. She remained true to her reputation as an “opportunity player.”

Latta, Hawkins, as well as Natasha Cloud were just what the doctor ordered to remedy a lack-luster game. “They really energized us,” said Head Coach Thibault. “We had 30 points amongst the three of them. That’s huge. Our bench bailed us out. Our starters, our starting guards, struggled to shoot the ball, obviously.”

“The bench came in with Ivory [Latta], Tianna [Hawkins] and [Natasha Cloud] and they just energized us. On both ends of the floor, too. I thought [Cloud] was all over the place defensively, helping people and getting her hands on the ball. And Ivory and Tianna were aggressive offensively,” Thibault concluded.

Although the three ladies off the bench stole the show for the evening, fan favorite Elena Delle Donne was quick to commend her teammates for their hard work and their contribution to the Mystic’s now three-game winning streak.

“It’s huge. They were phenomenal. But it’s something they’ve been bringing all season long. So you know that’s coming out of them. On nights where some of us aren’t able to knock down some of our shots because we’ve been on a crazy stretch of games, it was huge that they came out and provided that spark and took us to that next level.”

As far as the streak is concerned, Latta refused to let the win or her performance get to her head. “We’re confident in each other but we’re not going to get complacent with where we are at. We still have a lot of work to do. Any given night, any team can win so we just have to come out every single night, stay focused and don’t get complacent.”

The Mystics will fight to keep their streak alive as they play the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday, July 2.