A Natasha Cloud 3-point play with 3:16 to play broke a tie and gave the Washington Mystics their first fourth-quarter lead over the Atlanta Dream on Thursday night at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.
52 seconds later, after an awkward Crystal Bradford mid-range make that cut it to one, Ariel Atkins hit a gutsy straightaway 3-pointer after falling down that set the tone for the remainder of the game. It seemed to signal that the Mystics were not going to let the Dream catch them and they didn’t. Atlanta trailed by at least one the rest of the way because Washington always had an answer.
Atkins (32 points) and Theresa Plaisance (25 points) were both incredible for the Mystics (5-6), notching career highs in scoring in the 96-93 win. Plaisance, an unheralded reserve for much of her career who averaged just 6.9 minutes and 2.5 points for the Connecticut Sun in the wubble, was 5-of-8 from distance and made a number of key baskets that helped Washington battle back from a 14-point deficit. She started the game in place of Tina Charles, who was away at the Tribeca Film Festival for the premiere of her film “Game Changer.”
“What you saw tonight from the Mystics is a team that was not gonna give up,” Plaisance said. “At the end of the day we wanted to stay together, keep our composure through runs and that’s what we did. And having us come out on top today was just the icing on the cake.
I actually had a really terrible warm up. I was like ‘oh my gosh, we have two post players left and I'm shooting like this?’ I was like ‘come on T, you gotta do something.’ In the game I subbed in a little bit, my teammates kept feeding me with confidence, coaches keep feeding me with confidence. And I was just letting it fly. That was what they told me to do today and whenever I had my opportunities I just let it fly.”
It was impressive that the Mystics won their first game this season without Charles, who leads the WNBA with 24 points per game. It also showed a lot of resolve because the team lost to the Dream (5-7) by 23 in their previous contest and that was with Charles.
Atkins strengthened her All-Star case with her performance. After her three with 2:24 to play, she went 5-of-5 from the free throw line to help the Mystics close out the win. She was 9-of-10 from the stripe and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc on the evening.
“(Ariel) looks at herself as a prime time player in this league, she’s an All-Star in this league now,” said Mystics coach Mike Thibault. “She was always recognized for her defense and kind of given credit for some of her offense. But she’s turned into one of the best players at both ends of the floor and it showed up.”
Former Mystic Tianna Hawkins, who received a video tribute during the game, was a nuisance down the stretch, but her efforts were not enough. She cut it to 86-84 with 1:45 to go and 88-87 with a triple at 58.3 seconds remaining.
Plaisance responded to the latter with a turnaround bucket in the paint that made it 90-87. Atlanta then cut it to two at 31.4 seconds remaining and 20.4 remaining before Atkins free throws with 18.5 to go pushed it back to four.
Odyssey Sims (22 points, seven assists, three steals) hit a three with 5.4 seconds left that cut it to one, but Cloud (10 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists) was fouled quickly and made 1-of-2 at the line. Atkins also made a technical free throw at the same interval so Washington had a three-point lead with 2.9 to go. Aari McDonald’s half-court miss with 0.2 to go would have forced overtime instead of winning the game for Atlanta.
The Mystics trailed by 14 twice in the second before going on a 14-2 run that featured seven points from Plaisance. The Dream went on a 12-0 run after that to again lead by 14 with 9:07 to go in the third.
Washington came back again, this time taking a one-point lead with 2:12 before the fourth. The Mystics went on to lead by two after a Leilani Mitchell three that came with 48.7 seconds remaining in the third.
A 17-7 Atlanta run after that made the score 80-72 in favor of the Dream with six minutes to play. Enter Atkins with a floater and Plaisance and Mitchell with back-to-back triples and the Mystics tied the game at 80.
The win was the 350th of Thibault’s career.
“I’m so, so proud of this team just because of the simple fact that we didn't lose our heads” Atkins said. “We didn't get high, we didn't get low, we stayed neutral and we found a way to get it done. And energy was balanced tonight. There was not one person that had to bring 10,000 and one person just brought one. Everybody brought their best selves and they brought a little bit more of themselves, because we knew we had to.”
Mitchell finished 3-of-6 from downtown with 11 points. Myisha Hines-Allen notched nine points before leaving the game with a knee injury. She played just 10 minutes. Erica McCall had a knee issue arise prior tipoff and did not play.
Hawkins recorded 17 points and nine rebounds in defeat while teammate Tiffany Hayes had 16 points, six assists and a game-high five steals.