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Washington Mystics: The evolution of Natasha Cloud’s leadership

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The Washington Mystics lost to the Seattle Storm on Friday, but Natasha Cloud’s action off the court was a win for Washington D.C. The five-year veteran called for a media blackout as she demanded change in the community.

Natasha Cloud (#9) guarding Jewell Loyd (#24) on the perimeter, in Friday’s 74-71 loss to the Seattle Storm.
Zackery Rogers

The Washington Mystics (4-3) lost to the short-handed defending champion Seattle Storm (5-4) Friday night, 74-71. Washington jumped out to an early lead as it closed the first quarter leading the Storm 26-24.

Despite Washington leading early, Seattle’s shooting efficiency from the floor helped the defending champions stick around in the game. Both teams played physical defense all night, which led to a pretty chippy match.

Friday’s recap

As the physical play between the two teams continued, Kristi Toliver picked up a quick technical foul with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Elena Delle Donne (who has been struggling this season) came out ultra-aggressive, finishing the first quarter with 12 points. However, Toliver picked up her second technical foul with 31.1 seconds left in the first quarter, causing her to be ejected from the game.

Even with Delle Donne’s strong first quarter, the Mystics could not separate themselves from the Storm, who played strong defense all night and ended the first quarter shooting 66.7 percent from three. After Toliver’s ejection, the Mystics could have folded, but the leadership of Natasha Cloud helped energize and steer the team.

Natasha Cloud (#9) dishes to Ariel Atkins (#7) for a fast break layup.
Zackery Rogers

With Toliver done for the night, Cloud took on the majority of the ball handling duties while she made sure her teammates were in the right place, pushed the break and moved without the basketball. The Mystics ended the second quarter leading the Storm 46-38.

The third quarter belonged to Washington, who forced the issue on the fast break, crashed the boards and made a living at the free-throw line. Cloud’s electric energy was contagious — just as it has been all season — and rubbed off on the rest of the team.

Washington closed the third quarter leading by double-digits, but in the fourth quarter Seattle continued to chip away at the lead. Towards the end of the fourth, Washington started to go cold, which led to Seattle tying the game with 49.3 seconds left.

Unfortunately for the Mystics, Jewell Loyd went on to hit the go-ahead bucket to put the Storm up for good, 73-71. Despite the loss, the true MVP of this game was Cloud, who has taken the next steps as a leader both on and off the court.

More than a game

This season, Cloud is averaging 11.6 points (career-high), 5.9 assists (career-high) and 2.4 rebounds per game. She’s also playing 32.1 minutes per game, which is also a career-high.

Since being drafted in 2015, Cloud has continued to improve each year in different areas of her game and as a leader. In last year’s Finals, she struggled to find her niche and impact the game in different ways other than scoring.

This season, however, she has elevated her play on the defensive side of the floor, becoming more vocal with her teammates and leading by example. At the end of the 2018 season, it was evident that the Mystics needed a third primary scorer.

Needless to say, they received a third veteran voice who is ready to lead by example, impact the game in multiple capacities and take the burden off EDD and Toliver. Cloud finished Friday’s game against the Storm with 8 points and 5 assists.

Media blackout

Cloud’s biggest play came off the court, though, as she called for a media blackout to shed light on inner-city violence in Washington D.C.: specifically, bullets piercing the windows at Hendley Elementary School.

“Tonight obviously didn’t go as planned, but we’re talking about a game, a loss of a game. There are a lot more losses going on within our community, especially within this community of Ward 8, so we as a team want to only bring light to the issues going on within this community and that is the violence around kids going to school,” Cloud said.

Cloud continued to stress the importance of children’s safety and how the issues in the community need to be brought to light in order to formulate future solutions. The Mystics guard also took the initiative and informed the media that the team would not be making any comments on the game.

“Again, it’s just a game, we are talking about people’s lives within this community, so we want to be a part of the solution, we are in 100 percent support and again, we just want to make this community better,” said Cloud.

Although the Mystics lost at home, Cloud’s message, courage, and passion for a safer community spoke volumes. Her level of composure and ability to have her teammates follow her in that moment was powerful beyond words.

In the past, other Washington professional sports teams have spoken up about violence in the community. However, none of called for a media blackout like Cloud and used their platform to truly get the message across. Oh yeah — they didn’t hold their local councilman or mayor accountable like she did, either. Cloud used her platform and voice like a true leader.

Over the years, Cloud has continued to evolve into a leader on and off the court, and Friday was evident as to why the Mystics need her. Again, it’s bigger than basketball for Cloud, but it’s clear that her teammates stand behind her. On the court, she is an electric spark that powers her team up no matter if it’s from the bench or on floor.

Natasha Cloud spoke on the importance of brining the awareness to gun violence issues in Washington D.C. (Ward 8). #TogetherDC
Zackery Rogers

Coupled with her contagious energy, she has tapped into the D.C. community, let the District know that she is here to help create change and that children’s lives are more important than a game.

After Friday’s game, it’s clear that it’s too early to panic if you’re a Mystics fan. With Cloud as an emerging veteran voice on the Mystics, this team will be just fine. The Mystics are set to take on the Los Angeles Sparks on the road on Tuesday, June 18th, at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Watch the game on CBS Sports Network, Spectrum SportsNet or Monumental.