Three Takeaways: Washington Mystics beat New York Liberty in ugly defensive showdown

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In their last home game in almost three weeks, the Washington Mystics (10-5) defeated the New York Liberty (7-6) 67-54 in an ugly, defense-dominated showdown that held both teams to their lowest point totals of the season.

“We set basketball back 20 years tonight,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said after the game, befuddled by how his team managed to win the game shooting less than 31 percent.

The Mystics, who scored 97 and 100 points in their last two games against the Chicago Sky and Seattle Storm, respectively, got off to an abysmal start offensively, scoring only two points in the first five minutes of the game.

But a 20-5 run midway through the second quarter into the third gave them a lead, and once the Mystics inched ahead, they didn’t let up.

For the Mystics, Elena Delle Donne and Ivory Latta led the way with 15 points each. Shavonte Zellous led the way for the Liberty with 17 points, while Tina Charles was held to eight points, her second-lowest scoring total of the season.

The Mystics have now won three games in a row, and will welcome Emma Meesseman, bronze medal from Belgium’s successful European Championship run in tow, back on Sunday with momentum on their side as they head out on an extended road trip

The Mystics bench saved the day

The Mystics starters were sluggish and off-the-mark to start the game, and so Thibault turned to his bench about two-thirds of the way through the first quarter looking for a spark. While the buckets didn’t start to rain in immediately,  Latta, Tianna Hawkins, and Natasha Cloud helped sure up the defense, and baskets by Latta and Hawkins allowed the Mystics to end the first on a 5-0 run, which cut the Liberty’s lead to six after 10 minutes.

The momentum from the bench didn’t end there, though. Overall it was a great day for the D.C. reserves. Hawkins had 13 points, four steals, and three rebounds. Latta had 15 points and was 4-for-6 from the three-point range. And Cloud added two points, two assist, and two crucial steals. Together, they completely changed the trajectory of the game.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the stars didn’t eventually shine as well. Elena Delle Donne still managed 15 points and nine rebounds, proving an off night for her is a marquee night for most.

The defense was spectacular

A pessimist might focus on the many missed shots and low scoring totals from both teams in this came. But if you’re a lover of defense, this was a glass-half-full game for you.

The Mystics forced 21 turnovers from the Liberty. Hawkins had four steals, Hill had three, with Cloud adding two and Delle Donne adding one. Delle Donne led the team with nine rebounds, followed by Tierra Ruffin-Pratt with eight.

But it’s not all bad news for the Liberty. They out-rebounded the Mystics 46-to-33 and held the Mystics to only four offensive boards. Additionally, the Mystics were only 3-for-22 from beyond the arch, no doubt a testament to the tenacity of the Liberty defenders.

June 4, 2017: The New York Liberty vs the Phoenix Mercury at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Sugar Rodgers was missed

Just a few minutes before the game began, the Liberty announced that Rodgers would be sitting out due to a back injury. Her absence was most certainly felt.

Rodgers had been averaging 13.3 points-per-game and 3.9 rebounds in 32.5 minutes per game this season. Rookie Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe started in Rodgers’ place, and added little, with zero points on zero shots attempted, one turnover, and one defensive rebound in 13:58 on the floor.

But she wasn’t the only Liberty to have a bad night. Charles was 3-for-15 for eight points and eight rebounds, and contributed four turnovers to the loss. Kia Vaughn and Bria Hartley, both members of the 2016 Mystics, were a combined 5-for-15 for 11 points. And in her second game back after the playing for Russia in the European Championships, Ephiphanny Prince only scored 12 points.

Overall, it was a night for the Liberty to forget. Quickly.

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