In mid-June when the Washington Mystics played the Seattle Storm, Alysha Clark gave a very interesting sound bite on what it was like facing off against her former team.
“Seattle is the type of team that if you aren’t locked in and make mistakes, they capitalize off of them,” Clark said.
Seattle won that game, but the feeling in the atmosphere was that these two teams would see each other again down the line. Last month, both teams squared off again in back-to-back games, both with exciting finishes. Now, the stage is set. The two rivals are destined to face off in the first round of the 2022 WNBA playoffs.
Similarities and Differences
From a roster construction standpoint, Seattle and Washington are essentially carbon copies of each other, which is why this makes for such an exciting playoff series that may come down to who has home court advantage. Both teams are elite defensively and rather mediocre offensively while being anchored by a generational scoring forwards who are paired with a great playmaking and scoring guard in the backcourt.
What separates these two teams is their play styles. The Storm love to push the pace, while the Mystics are much slower. Seattle, much like Las Vegas, is one of the fastest paced teams in the league. Washington had much success against the Aces this year, holding them to zero fastbreak points in their most recent game, and only two fastbreak points in the first game of the season.
Against the Storm, the Mystics have had similar success stopping the fastbreak; however, their biggest problem lies with the inability to score at times.
Historically, the WNBA playoffs don’t favor bad offensive teams. The 2006 Detroit Shock are the only team to win the championship with a below league average offense. In the July 30 game against Seattle, a game with seeding implications, Washington went over five minutes without a made field goal.
In their first meeting of the season that the Storm won 85-71, the Mystics kept the game close for the majority of the first half, until they went another four minutes without scoring a point. Washington was leading 37-36 halfway through the second quarter before Seattle went on a 10-0 run to end the period and seize the momentum.
Notice a pattern here?
The biggest question mark with this Mystics team is going to be their ability to score in the halfcourt. We know their defense is exceptional and will keep them in any game, but this is not the old days.
Many people like to compare this year’s version of the Washington Mystics to the 2019 championship team. This is the first year since the 2019 season that the Mystics look poised to compete for a title, so the comparisons are somewhat warranted. However, the 2019 team is arguably the greatest offense in basketball history, posting a regular season relative offensive rating that was 15 points ahead of league average, which would not only rank 1st all time in the WNBA, but also in the NBA.
Season Series: Seattle vs. Washington
The Storm currently have the fourth best odds of capturing this year’s WNBA title, and the Mystics are a distant fifth, so expect Seattle to enter the series as the favorites. With home court advantage, the best player on the floor, and a 2-1 season series lead, this playoff round will certainly be in the Storm’s favor.
This isn’t to say Washington can’t compete. Elena Delle Donne is still one of the league’s best players and has shown that she can challenge anyone for that title when the lights are brightest. In all three games this season against Seattle, Delle Donne has held her own against MVP candidate Breanna Stewart.
The July 31 game showed that.
In a game that the Mystics won 78-75, Delle Donne had 17 points and six rebounds, while also playing excellent defense on Breanna Stewart and Tina Charles.
Of course this series will also be decided in the trenches by the surrounding players on both teams as well. Myisha Hines-Allen recently went into the Health and Safety Protocol and will be much needed on the Washington sideline. Prior to being sidelined, she was coming off back-to-back 20-point games on excellent efficiency. She was finding a rhythm before being out, and her production will be heavily relied upon in an intense playoff series where points may be slim.
On the Seattle side, expect Jewell Loyd and Ezi Magbegor to be huge difference-makers. Magebegor came off the bench and provided tremendous energy on the defensive end against Washington last month, coming up with timely forced turnovers early in the fourth quarter. Loyd, one of the best tough shot-makers in the league, came up big against Washington this year and has the skill set to provide valuable scoring for Seattle’s offense.
Washington has the capabilities to give any team (besides probably Chicago) a serious challenge in a playoff series. They have the experience and the defense to get it done; Unfortunately, the offense is just too stagnant to prevail over such an imposing defensive opponent.
Storm win series 2-1.