Through 13 games so far this season the Washington Mystics have learned a lot about their opponents, but perhaps none more than the Chicago Sky. Of the 13 games they’ve played, three have been against the defending champions. The Mystics are 1-2 in those games and all have been very close battles. Both teams are pretty evenly matched, which makes this a potential playoff preview.
The Mystics have played all but 40 minutes in these three games without Elena Delle Donne, who exited Wednesday’s game early with a back injury.
Losing Delle Donne to a back injury is serious given the history she’s had with these types of injuries, but the Mystics have been used to playing without Delle Donne for a while now, so next player up is the mentality.
Ariel Atkins answered the call, leading all scorers with 19 points on 69 percent true shooting, along with five assists and seven rebounds. Without Delle Donne, the Mystics needed Atkins to carry the offensive load for the team, and she delivered, posting one of her best performances of the season so far.
This game was close at the half, with Washington leading by five points. In this game, the Mystics had the fewest amount of possessions in a game that they’ve had all season, with 74, but they were effective shooting the ball.
To start the second half, Washington jumped out on a 12-2 run to take a 15-point lead. The Mystics were comfortably ahead for the majority of the game.
Until the last few minutes.
Chicago forced several turnovers in the finals minutes, which led to threes and eventually a Candace Parker three-point play to tie the game at 82. Natasha Cloud was fouled on a potential game winner and made a pair of clutch free throws with six seconds remaining. Candace Parker missed a layup at the buzzer as Washington prevailed 84-82.
Newly acquired veteran Alysha Clark had a very strong night, scoring 18 points along with three rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes.
After Wednesday’s game against, Chicago Sky head coach James Wade had this to say about facing a very familiar opponent for the second time in just four days:
One similarity between Chicago and Washington is the amount of pick-and-roll that they run. With Natasha Cloud and Courtney Vandersloot both at the top of the league in assists per game with just under seven, they are both two of the main offensive hubs for their teams’ offenses. Both teams score a lot of their points in the paint, Chicago assisting on 68.4 percent of its team’s shots at the rim, which is second in the league. Washington is not far off at 62.21%.
The offensive philosophies of both teams are very similar, and the type of shots produced out of those pick-and-roll schemes are similar. Watching both teams, it’s no surprise how competitive these three games have been, and with a superstar like Delle Donne missing a majority of the time in this three-game series, it’s not crazy to believe the outcome of this early season series would be much different with her playing more.
Fantastic footwork and hands by Shakira Austin after switching onto Vandersloot. Alysha Clark does a great job of taking away easy decisions up front as well pic.twitter.com/ZooLOxnR2Z— Gabe Ibrahim (@gabe_ibrahim) June 9, 2022
It has been relieving to see the Mystics find different contributors throughout the season. Despite the losing streak they suffered earlier, there are a ton of bright spots to take away from it. With all the lineup inconsistencies, they’ve been a pretty resilient team on the defensive end, which gives them a chance against anybody in the league.
In the 13 games this season, head coach Mike Thibault has deployed nine different starting lineups, with last night’s starting line of Delle Donne, Clark, Shakira Austin, Atkins, and Cloud being used for just the second time all season.
Before the game, Mike Thibault talked about the difficulty of lineup inconsistencies and what he’s looking for in the team:
The Mystics won’t see the Chicago Sky again until Aug. 5. In the meantime, their next game is tonight against the Minnesota Lynx at 8 p.m. ET.