Washington D.C. - When the winningest coach in the WNBA tells you to do something, and you do it, there is a pretty good chance you are going to come out on top. That is what happened to the Washington Mystics as they beat the Seattle Storm on Friday night in overtime, 110-106.
Despite losing five of their last six games, Coach Mike Thibault told his team if they wanted to clinch the five seed in the playoffs they would need to bring the D (defense) all night long. That is exactly what the Mystics did as they pushed the game into overtime, and battled it out until the finals seconds.
But not only did Washington win, however, they won in style. The Mystics’ 110 points are the most they have scored in a single game this season. Not done with making history, Washington also set a season high with 40 field goals made and shot 40-78 (.513) from the field, marking the fifth time this season they have shot over .500.
Washington had its eyes on the prize: clinching the fifth seed in the playoffs.
Going into this matchup, there were two things we knew would most likely happen: One, the contest would be a close one and two, Sue Bird would become the all time assist leader in the WNBA. After all, Bird only needed three more to own the record.
As the game started, Bird was unstoppable. Her assists were natural and effortless — just like her entire career. Bird would end up dishing out 13 assists en route to becoming the WNBA’s all-time career assist leader, passing Ticha Penicherio, who formerly held the record at 2,599. She notched the record at the 3:37 mark of the first quarter on a dish to Carolyn Swords. In her 16th season with the Storm, Bird now has 2,610 assists for her career.
The entire Capital One Arena stood up to give her a standing ovation, and her teammates and coach all surrounded her for a moment of recognition. Bird seemed to be unshaken by the accomplishment and more focused on the task at hand -- winning.
“I think it is special,” Bird articulated after the game. “I’m not going to lie and sit here and say ‘Oh, I haven’t been thinking about it.’ I think it says something about a player’s career in this league in particular because it is such a tough league to play in. Twelve teams, only twelve players make the team. It’s survival of the fittest at its best.
“You have to be pretty good to play in this league, so if you are at the top of any statistical category, it says something about you as a player. For me, it really speaks to longevity. It speaks to be able to play a lot of years. I’ve been doing this for a long time and also just being consistent, get better, but stay consistent,” the new assists record holder concluded.
As the game continued, you could see quickly that this wasn’t like the matchup we saw between these teams back in June when they met, and Washington had their way beating Seattle 100-80. This was a chess match, a constant volley back and forth.
While playoffs officially do not begin until next week, Friday’s contest gave an early taste of the excitement the postseason games bring. Seattle really pushed the tempo all game, something we have seen them do this season.
The Storm had over six players pass double digits in scoring, and gave a real team effort. Alysha Clark led the way with 20 points, Jewell Loyd followed close behind with 19, and Bird -- along with her 13 assists -- had 19 points, too.
The effort was there, however, an even bigger effort was exerted by Washington’s players.
Specifically, it was Elena Delle Donne’s performance and gumption that rallied the Mystics together to pull off a remarkable win in overtime. Delle Donne was like a swiss army knife; she was great on offense and aggressive on defense. She led by example scoring a season-high 37 points, shooting 11-18 from the field, 6-9 from three-point range and 9-9 from the free throw line -- she was on fire! Delle Donne has now scored 24+ points in three straight games.
“It took just getting some stops, and it was just a crazy offensive night for sure,” said Delle Donne on the win. “Down the stretch, we knew we needed to get a couple stops so just everybody doing their part and figuring out a way to get it done.”
Coach Mike Thibault praised his veteran star stating, "She (Dell Donne) wasn't going to let us lose. The one thing I like about her the most is she'll miss a shot or two, and that does not deter her from taking the shot next time it's open. Some players shy away from it. Best example she has for our team is that you got to keep playing no matter what's happened on the previous possession. That's kind of her mindset."
And that mindset helped win the game for Washington against Seattle, 110-106. Washington clinched the season series over Seattle, 2-1, with both Mystics wins coming at home. With the win, Washington clinches a home game in the opening round of the 2017 WNBA Playoffs. The game will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. at Capital One Arena.
"We'll we've got one more game down in Chicago,” said Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg. “There are obviously some games tonight that we'll be watching. You know, it’s a possibility we could be back [in Washington] Wednesday. I thought this was an unbelievable basketball game. It was a tough one to lose, but I thought both teams played really well, hit some clutch shots.
Due to the end results of Chicago’s and Atlanta’s games -- the two games Kloppenburg knew could help determine his team’s playoff hopes --, Seattle indeed will appear in the playoffs. The Storm will either face Washington once again or Phoenix on Sept. 6.