Tina Charles scored in double figures in both of her first two games as a Washington Mystic, with one of the efforts being a 20-plus one, but she struggled form the field, shooting 33.3 percent.
On Friday night at the Entertainment and Sports Arena, Charles had a breakout 34-point, nine-rebound performance that featured a 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) effort from the field and a 4-of-7 (57.1 percent) effort from beyond the arc, silencing any doubters who thought the 32-year-old might have lost a step after sitting out the 2020 season.
Charles played six years in New York before being traded prior to the 2020 season.
The Mystics were desperate for a win after starting 0-2 without key players in Elena Delle Donne and Myisha Hines-Allen. They came out with an 8-0 start and went on to lead by as many as 15 in the first after the Liberty tied it at 14. New York cut it to seven at the break, but Washington won the third 26-18 and the fourth 23-8 to walk away with the blowout win, which did not seem like it would be easy to obtain against a 3-0 Liberty team that was coming off an 11-point win over the always-contending Minnesota Lynx.
Ariel Atkins was a phenomenal 5-of-7 from deep with 25 points and four assists.
“The thing I love about Coach (Mike Thibault), he always makes sure that we find the good in things,” said Charles, who played for Thibault in Connecticut from 2010 to 2012 and still has the unfinished business of winning a championship with him. “So those were the takeaways (from the losses) and we just wanted to capitalize on that.
Try to limit Sabrina (Ionescu) as much as we can, try to harass her because we know that she's the one who makes them go. Try to make it as tough as you can for (Betnijah) Laney, who’s playing unbelievable basketball right now. So we’re just gonna take those things we were able to do tonight and hopefully be able to come out on the other side of this three-game road trip that we have.”
“Clearly we had two people really get going on offense,” Thibault said. “I mean it’s a tough matchup for them on Tina without Natasha Howard. And next time we see them we’ll have Myisha so it’ll be interesting. Ariel, great to see her to get off to a good start. But I’m happy with up and down through the lineup.”
Shavonte Zellous, a former All-Star and 12-year vet who has been brought in to guide the Mystic bench, made a big impact with 11 points after scoring just two points in the first two games combined. Erica McCall added seven points and a game-high 13 rebounds and Natasha Cloud had six points, five rebounds and a game-high eight assists. Theresa Plaisance contributed with eight boards and Leilani Mitchell dished out four assists.
Laney had 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in defeat, while Ionescu was good for 10 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The Mystics looked really good and, remember, they won without Delle Donne and Hines-Allen. Atkins said playing without Charles, Delle Donne, Cloud and current assistant coach LaToya Sanders in last year’s bubble prepared her for her performance on Friday.
“I think just me personally it put me in a different role last year,” she said. “Being the only returning starter and having the ball in my hands a lot more. And then being able to come in this year and play with the team that we have and not be passive. Continue to be aggressive.”
The Mystics will eventually get Delle Donne and Hines-Allen back, but Friday’s win was big to catch the Mystics from falling to 0-3 and Charles is the one to thank.
“I think she’s felt a lot of pressure coming here right now and having a lot of talk about her being a big get for us,” Thibault said of her. “And she’s looking down the bench just like I am and seeing Elena in street clothes and Alysha Clark in street clothes and Myisha not here yet. And she’s feeling the weight of the world a little bit. I think that eases the pressure a little bit, a game like tonight.”