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Hoops Happening: Today in women’s basketball (and beyond) — Thursday May 31, 2018

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A Phoenix is dying in the ashes following third straight loss. Meanwhile, the Mystics advance to 5-1 on the season and lead a league trend.

Washington Mystics v Phoenix Mercury
With the ball in Kristi Toliver’s hands, all Phoenix Mercury Head Coach Sandy Brondello can do is look on and admire the mystical experience.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last night in Phoenix, a Kristi Toliver-led Washington team handed the hometown heroes their third straight loss and improved to 5-1 for the season. Washington’s only loss was to the Seattle Storm the night before.

That’s right — Washington’s dominant win over a team that is supposedly contending for a championship came during a road trip, and the second game of a back-to-back. The three-hour flight from Seattle to Phoenix proved to be no problem at all for this team, even with its star player, Elena Delle Donne, at home recovering from a stomach bug.

A truly mystical experience, indeed.

The Mystics got it done behind Kristi Toliver’s game-high 30 points, another 21 from underappreciated Ariel Atkins and a sick 13-point, 12-rebound double-double from Tianna Hawkins.

Again, this team has been killing it without its star player and with lackluster performances from the other starters. It will be interesting to see how Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault integrates Delle Donne back into the lineup, and whether he will make any changes to the starting rotation given that those players, including Delle Donne, have not been getting it done.

The rule here should be to avoid tampering with what is apparently working very well. As it is, the Mystics are leading a trend that has emerged in these early weeks of the season: Overlooked players on overlooked teams are on the rise, bringing a new batch of WNBA superstars into formation before our very eyes.

Once-dominant teams like the Minnesota Lynx and Mercury have exhibited lackluster, lifeless performances signaling the eventual end of an old guard. Toliver and the Mystics have demonstrated with resounding clarity, however, that a new sheriff is in town.

Final score: 103-95.

Poll

Which Mystics bench player would you like to see in the starting lineup?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Natasha Cloud
    (23 votes)
  • 36%
    Myisha Hines-Allen
    (24 votes)
  • 6%
    LaToya Sanders
    (4 votes)
  • 22%
    Shatori Walker-Kimbrough
    (15 votes)
66 votes total Vote Now

A Phoenix dying in the ashes?

After a strong start to the season with wins over the Dallas Wings and the Seattle Storm, the Phoenix Mercury just picked up its third straight loss against the Washington Mystics last night. The Mercury now sit seventh in the standings, just one spot ahead of the also-struggling Lynx.

The alarming thing about the Mercury’s most recent losses against the LA Sparks on Sunday and the Mystics last night is that these are games the team could have won but didn’t (as the players seemed unfocused and undisciplined at times), and definitely should have won, given that the opposing teams were missing key players.

In LA on Sunday, the Mercury appeared to have just thrown in the towel in the fourth quarter, as if they didn’t bother to try because they assumed a loss was inevitable. Yes, LA’s Tricky Trio of Nneka Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims can be a deadly weapon for the Sparks, but Candace Parker was on the bench for much of the game due to foul trouble.

Opportunity: SQUANDERED.

Against the Mystics last night, the Mercury lost at home even though Elena Delle Donne, Tayler Hill and Natasha Cloud did not play for Washington.

Opportunity: SQUANDERED.

Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner put up big offensive games, with 27 points and 25 points respectively, but where in tarnation is the bloody defense? Sancho Lyttle was the team-high rebounder with 7, but the Mercury were out-rebounded as a team, 31-26.

Briann January contributed 11 points, but it was another quiet game for Diana Taurasi, who scored 9 points and dished 6 assists. After her hot, history-making start to the season, Taurasi has cooled off significantly since the loss to the Storm during which experienced a quad strain that had her listed as “probable” for the matchup in LA four days later.

If not for Lyttle’s 20 points, the Mercury would have been blown out of the game against LA. But, so far, it doesn’t seem she can be relied upon for that kind of production every night. So, who for this team can and will step up to give Phoenix a fighting chance of contending for another title?

Next up for the Mercury is a matchup against the Lynx on Friday night — in Minnesota — on ESPN2. The Lynx will seek to redeem themselves following a loss to the Atlanta Dream this week in which they exhibited some of the worst play basketball fans have ever seen from them. Meanwhile, the Mercury, of course, will do everything they can to avoid a fourth straight loss and halt further skidding down the standings.

For Phoenix, the Friday night matchup is much more of a must-win situation than it is for the Lynx. But with both teams undoubtedly frustrated and eager to reassert themselves in the league, this one promises to be either really beautiful or really ugly.

Poll

Diana Taurasi has averaged 19.7 points per game for her career. Does Phoenix’s ability to contend depend on Taurasi scoring 15-20 points per game?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Yes. She must light it up from deep every game.
    (31 votes)
  • 34%
    No. Someone else needs to step up for this team. (Tell us who in the comments.)
    (16 votes)
47 votes total Vote Now

Today’s game

The Las Vegas Aces get another shot at the Seattle Storm — tonight, on WNBA League Pass.


Performance of the night

Kristi Toliver’s 30 points against the Phoenix Mercury should put the league on notice.


Links Appeal


How to #WatchThemWork all season


Shine brighter. C’mon! You can do it. * flicker flicker *