Three Takeaways: Mystics outlast second-half surge by Dream

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: Elena Delle Donne
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: Elena Delle Donne /

WASHINGTON, D.C.–On the night the Washington Mystics celebrated the 20th anniversary of the franchise, the 2017 team celebrated with a nail-biting 78-72 win over the Atlanta Dream, who came into the game 4-1 on the year. This was the Mystics’ fourth win in a row.

Elena Delle Donne led the team with 23 points; the 2015 WNBA MVP didn’t miss a single shot until midway through the third quarter.

The Mystics got off to an incredibly strong start. With just 6:05 left in the first half, the Mystics led by 18 and were shooting 66.7% from the floor, compared to only 25.9% by the Dream. But the home team couldn’t sustain that shooting percentage or offensive prowess, and it was a toss-up game late in the fourth.

But for the second straight game the Mystics came up with the goods in the final seconds of the game and survived to get their fifth win of the season.

The Mystics’ bench is suddenly shallow

The Mystics had an unconventionally healthy start to the season, but those bragging rights came to an abrupt end this past week.

On Wednesday in the game against the Connecticut Sun, Tayler HIll hurt her neck and left shoulder. She was kept out this game. Then, at practice on Friday, Asia Taylor and Natasha Cloud had an ugly collision. Both were kept out of this game, Cloud with a left knee strain and Taylor with neck pain.

Those three injuries, combined with Emma Meesseman’s June excursion in Belgium, left the Mystics startlingly short-handed.

That meant it was finally time for the rookies to take the stage. First-round pick Shatori Walker-Kimbrough got her first start of the season, while second rounder Jennie Simms got her first significant minutes, playing for 14:19.

Both rookies looked understandably rusty. Walker-Kimbrough slight frame and deer-in-the-headlines stare left her looking completely outmatched at times, but she settled in physically as the game progressed. (Hill could often be seen coaching her from the sidelines.) She finished the game with just three points despite 18:11 on the court, but did do a good job guarding Tiffany Hayes in the first half.

Simms fared slightly better, making her presence felt in the post with three defensive rebounds and one offensive rebound, despite zero baskets. But there’s certainly room for improvement. Nerves are understandable, but the team is going to need a lot more from Walker-Kimbrough and Simms going forward if the injury plague continues.

Elena Delle Donne reappeared at just the right time

At one point, the Mystics were shooting nearly 70 percent from the field. By the end of the game, that had gone down to 36.7 percent. Everyone started missing shots for the Mystics, including Delle Donne, who went from 6-6 midway through the third quarter to 6-13 with less than three minutes left in the game.

She even missed back-to-back free throws, an occurrence that left the Mystics’ home crowd stunned in silence.

Whether it was fatigue, frustration, or simply an ill-timed slump, with Hill infirmary there was no time for Delle Donne to disappear.

But like the superstar she is, she didn’t go away mentally. With 34.5 seconds she was sent to the free throw line to shoot three, and she sunk them all to give the Mystics a 74-72 lead. Then she crucially grabbed a defensive rebound with 11.9 seconds left, and was fouled by Brittney Sykes in the process. She sank her final two free throws to seal the win.

Delle Donne still isn’t hitting on all cylinders, and yet she just put up a 23-point, 15-rebound, game-clutching showcase anyways.

Tiffany Hayes will not be denied

In the first quarter, the Mystics held Tiffany Hayes, who was just named the Eastern Conference player of the month, to only two points on zero field goals.

Yeah, it’s safe to say that quarter was the exception, not the rule.

Hayes came alive in the second quarter, when she hit a three as the shot clock expired with just under a minute to go in the half to bring the game within seven points.

She finished the game 8-19 with 24 points, six rebounds and two steals. She was so disruptive in the third quarter she almost single-handedly spoiled the Mystics’ birthday party.

Bria Holmes and Sancho Lyttle were the only two other Dream players in double digits scoring with 13 and 10 points, respectively. Lyttle and Elizabeth Williams let the way on the boards with nine each.