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Mystics earn split over intense weekend

The Washington Mystics were on the right and wrong end of thrilling games over the weekend.

WNBA: Washington Mystics vs. Chicago Sky Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

For the Mystics, Sunday’s game against the Chicago Sky was a star-studded match that had the feeling of a championship game. The feelings were justified, as the matchup featured two of the last three WNBA title winners. The Mystics having won in 2019, and the Sky being the defending champions.

There was certainly familiarity amongst both teams. For the Sky, two-time MVP Candace Parker faced off against Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, another two-time MVP, who won one of her awards with the Sky back in 2015. Chicago forwards Emma Meesseman and Kahleah Copper were both drafted by the Mystics before being traded to Chicago. Meesseman won Finals MVP with Washington back in 2019, and Copper for the Sky last year.

In an intense back-and-forth game, the Sky showed why they are the defending champions, dominating defensively down the stretch in an 82-73 win.

Mystics coach Mike Thibault had this to say about his team’s performance:

“That was pretty ugly... I don’t have a lot of good things to say. Our offense is just not smooth at all right now. … We didn’t have a good shooting night. We didn’t recognize sometimes how we were being played, necessarily. Some of our turnovers in the first half, we threw the ball into a crowd. ... That was a good game to get some lessons from, too.”

The box score for this game reflected Coach Thibault’s postgame sentiments. The Mystics outscored the Sky by 12 points from three and had a slight edge in free throws. Even more surprising, the Mystics had nine more shot attempts in this game, as reflected by the slight offensive rebounding edge they had in this game.

Despite all those advantages, they shot a dreadful 38 percent from the field in comparison to Chicago’s 54 percent. In the second half, which is where Chicago dominated and won the game, Washington shot 10-for-35 (28.6 percent) to Chicago’s 19-for-34 (55.9% percent).

“There’s going to be some games where shots don’t fall,” Delle Donne said. “It’s just not allowing each of us to get into our own heads and being on our own islands and not still playing through it and playing together.”

Parker made history, becoming the third WNBA player to record multiple triple-doubles. She also became the first with more than one in the regular season, finishing with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Copper made her season debut, scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds.

As for the Mystics, Ariel Atkins scored a game-high 20 points, while Natasha Cloud had 10 assists. Shakira Austin started just her third game of the season and had 14 points in 22 minutes.

On Friday the Mystics faced off against the Atlanta Dream in a highly-anticipated matchup between this year’s No. 1 pick Rhyne Howard and the No. 3 pick in Austin. The Mystics had the No. 1 pick, but traded back to get Austin. For weeks it was rumored that the Mystics were interested in Howard, and Thibault had high praise for the young star.

Howard did not disappoint. In the first half she went 6-of-6 from the field for 19 points. The Mystics struggled containing her in off-ball screening sets and she made them pay, going 4-of-4 from three in the first half. Austin had a phenomenal half as well, scoring 10 points in just under 12 minutes of play. In the games this season without the services of Delle Donne, Austin has really stepped up her play.

The Dream led for most of the game thanks to timely scoring by Howard and Erica Wheeler and a strong defensive effort by Kristy Wallace. The two teams were tied going into halftime. The Dream then went on a 12-0 run early in the third quarter, taking a 56-46 lead as Washington struggled to score. However, it was with the fourth quarter, where Washington outscored Atlanta 24-15, that the Mystics were able to pull away with the win.

It was a huge hustle play by Tianna Hawkins that led to an Atkins baseline jumper that put the Mystics up 72-71 with just over a minute remaining. Howard missed a potential game-winner and the Mystics hit their free throws at the end of the game to secure the win.

It was the defensive intensity of the team in the second half that helped them comeback to win. The Mystics held Howard to just two points over the final two frames.

When asked about who deserves acknowledgement for this great defensive effort, Natasha Cloud had this to say:

“Alysha Clark. Period… She should have been the defensive player of the year in 2020. That’s no secret. She’s healthy, she’s getting back into a rhythm, and that’s who she is. She’s a defensive-minded player. She takes pride in being one of the best defenders on the floor. And she bullied Rhyne.”

“That’s what we needed to do. Bully her early. Don’t allow her to get comfortable coming off the screens. And AC did a phenomenal, phenomenal job in that second half.”

The Mystics (5-2) have a rematch with the Dream (4-2) on Tuesday.