Last night, the Washington Mystics’ social media team had a thrilling announcement, something fans have been waiting months to hear. No, it wasn’t a player signing an extension or a trade. It was an injury report. A blank injury report.
For the first time all season, the Mystics had no injuries to report ahead of tonight’s match with the Las Vegas Aces.
On opening night, the Mystics had to play without the services of Myisha Hines-Allen. Midway through the season, it was Shakira Austin, Elena Delle Donne and Ariel Atkins who were out of the lineup. Yet, somehow, the Mystics have pushed through the difficult times and are now fully healthy headed into the final stretch of the season.
How a healthy Mystics beat the Aces
Last Saturday’s game against the Aces was the first time the Mystics’ starting lineup from opening night started a game together since June 25. It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, as the Mystics are fighting for playoff seeding. Facing off against one of the most efficient offenses in league history certainly was a great litmus test for where the team stands.
Not only did Washington win the game, but they did so convincingly, holding the vaunted Aces offense to only 62 points in what was a 16-point win. A’ja Wilson was coming off a WNBA-record 53-point outing against the Atlanta Dream; the Mystics held her to 14 points. In the last meeting against Las Vegas, Washington sprinkled in a lot of zone, but with the starters returning for the rematch, it was mostly man-to-man defense that stifled Vegas.
Aces guard Kelsey Plum applauded the physicality of the Mystics’ defense after the game, noting, “[The Mystics] do a great job of crowding the nail, so in transition they’re funneling everyone to you....they make it really hard, they bring a ton of bodies, and they play physical.”
Delle Donne returned from injury and posted a team-high 21 points, once again showing how valuable she is to this team’s offense. Not only did Delle Donne look healthy, but the aggressiveness was there as well, getting to the free throw line seven times and finishing a plus-28 in just over 21 minutes of play.
Natasha Cloud has really been impressive offensively, collapsing defenses and finding teammates for open looks. When many of the starters were out of the lineup, Cloud ramped up her aggressiveness, driving to the rim more than she ever has, which has paid dividends now that the team is finally healthy. She finished with seven points and nine assists, and was a plus-16 in 33 minutes. Both Cloud and Brittney Sykes are on a short list of guards competing for All-Defensive team selections this year. They’ve been phenomenal on that end, holding down the team’s defense in the absence of Austin, Atkins and others.
Consistency, defense are key for DC
Two weeks ago, when Washington lost by double-digits to Dallas, the team was tied for the No. 8 seed and in serious danger of missing the playoffs. Brittney Sykes aired her frustrations about the team’s inconsistent play at certain moments in the game, saying:
Consistency, we look for consistency. That’s how you build on habits, whether they’re good or bad. So for us, it gets frustrating because we’ll have a couple games where we’ll have these stretches of really good basketball, whether it’s a win or loss, we still stick to principles, we still hold our scout true. Today, we kind of went away from that… We need to go at it and chip away at things when we’re playing against teams like we played against today.
Tuesday’s rematch with the Minnesota Lynx was an opportunity to put Sykes’ words into practice. It also was personal for Washington. The last time these two teams faced off in DC, Tiffany Mitchell scored a game-winning layup to give the Lynx a two-point victory. The Mystics squandered multiple leads in that game, which left a sour taste in mouths of the entire team. This game, much like the Dallas game two weeks ago, also had playoff seeding implications.
Brittney Sykes has been incredible this season for the Washington Mystics— WNBA Fans Only (@WNBAFansOnly) August 30, 2023
15.3 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 3.9 APG | 2.2 SPG
All career-highs‼️ pic.twitter.com/tUPES54IMh
Washington responded in a huge way, getting 21 points from Brittney Sykes and 12 points and nine assists from Natasha Cloud. Once again, it was Washington’s defense that dominated, holding Minnesota to 72 points. The Mystics defense has been a step down from what it was last year, as they have the fourth-best defensive rating this year compared to last year’s No. 1 rank. However, the starting lineup of Cloud, Atkins, Sykes, Delle Donne and Austin has been dominant, with a plus-24 net rating and a defensive rating 18 points better than the league average. The team has looked like the stifling defense they always were when healthy.
So with two weeks remaining in the regular season and Washington finally having a blank injury report, the Mystics are preparing their final form ahead of this year’s playoffs.
They face the Aces tonight in Las Vegas at 10 p.m. ET (Prime Video).