New York, NY— Shooters shoot.
Kristi Toliver is both.
And just add her 32-point, offensive clinic to the list of epic performances that Madison Square Garden has played host to over the years. Behind the kind of unconscious shot-making that would have forced any NBA player to hesitate before accepting a three-point competition with her, Toliver was the difference, in the Mystics’ 82-68 victory over the New York Liberty.
“That was my biggest fear going into this game,” said Liberty head coach, Bill Laimbeer. “Toliver making the ungodly shots that she does every now-and-then...Great players do that, and she was one of the big differences in the game.”
Brought to Washington specifically to instill a winning culture, Toliver found her team staring directly into the face of more postseason heartbreak. Trailing by as many as 14 points, an anemic Mystics offense couldn’t seem to buy a shot for almost 15 minutes. In fact, they went 0-of-9 from three-point range in the first quarter.
That included Toliver, but refusing to be denied—she kept shooting. And as great players do, Toliver willed herself to the elusive gear only champions can summon.
“The greatest thing about Kristi is that—as a general rule—you can miss shots early, and that doesn’t change her mindset,” said Mystics head coach, Mike Thibault. “I think to win at this level, to win big games, you have to have several players who don’t mind taking pressure shots.”
With six minutes remaining in the second period, Toliver hit two three-pointers in the span of two minutes, followed by a drive and finish at the rim that drew contact. Toliver’s fiery response following the bucket seemed to say, “We may not have been here before as a group, but I have. It’s on.”
That play sparked a 13-2 run, that allowed the Mystics to pull within six points of the lead — and only down 41-35 at halftime.
To start the third quarter, Toliver’s three-point daggers must have given the Liberty chills, because this went from a short-lived bad dream, to a nightmare, from which only an alarm can mercifully provide rescue.
Her unconscious, Stephen Curry-like shooting escalated to the extent that 22 feet seemed to almost bore her. At which point, she raised the level of difficulty—testing her range from even deeper on a couple, hitting a three off the dribble with a defender in her face, and finding nothing but net with three defenders on her on another — talk about shooter’s touch.
Besides making a convincing early pitch to be included in next year’s All-Star three-point contest, Toliver’s play had larger implications tonight. She not only sparked the comeback, but she also allowed the Mystics to maintain and extend the lead the rest of the way.
“I think Kristi Toliver happened,” said Liberty forward and WNBA great, Tina Charles. “Her three’s added up. It got us kind of turned around...I think she made eight or nine three’s. That killed us.”
Toliver’s long-range shooting, and aggressiveness in finding her spots on the floor, forced a Liberty defense—that keep in mind, sits atop the WNBA in several categories—to dedicate extra help on her. This had the deadly consequence of leaving perennial all-star, Elena Delle Donne, free to ravage the paint and hit vintage jumpers. She and Toliver combined for 50 points.
“I’ve never witnessed something like that,” said Delle Donne. “We just rode her weight today. She was unconscious...When she’s going off like that, we just do all the little things and let her go. Offensively, she took over.”
And with her utter dominance, the Mystics magical run continues.
The quest for their first title continues on Tuesday when they take on the Minnesota Lynx at 8 pm ET.