WNBA Playoffs: The Washington Mystics are riding the wave, and Kristi Toliver’s hot hand

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 6: Kristi Toliver /

NEW YORK — The Washington Mystics have a mantra, and it was especially apt on Sunday in their second-round WNBA Playoffs win over the New York Liberty.

Ride the wave.

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Once they gather momentum — which they did on the heels of Kristi Toliver’s lights-out shooting in the second half against the Liberty — they’re tough to beat. That’s why Washington won 82-68 and is moving on to the semifinals against the Minnesota Lynx.

The Liberty took an early double-digit lead, but Toliver caught fire in the third quarter, going 5-5 from three. Once Washington took the lead, it quickly ballooned. First to five, then to 10, then eventually 20 in the fourth quarter.

“We just rode her wave,” Elena Delle Donne told reporters after the game. “She was unconscious. That’s her.”

A scoring outburst like this was anything but guaranteed for a Washington team that, according to head coach Mike Thibault, spent much of the winter trying to lure her to the nation’s capital. Toliver’s numbers have fluctuated wildly this season, perhaps best demonstrated in mid-August when she went 0-10 from three against the Mercury, then 5-7 two days later in Indiana.

But as they normally do over the course of a season, the stats evened out in a way that showed Toliver’s true value in 2017, both good and bad. While she shot a career-low 34 percent from three this season, her effective field goal percentage (54.8) was her best since her rookie year and her true shooting percentage (59.3) was her best since 2012.

Now, through two playoff games, she is 13-26 from long distance.

“The shot just started going in and that’s when you can’t overthink things,” Toliver told The Summitt. “I think that’s when I’m at my best.”

Thibault agreed, saying that through her ups and downs this season, Toliver’s approach has stayed consistent.

“The greatest thing about Kristi is that as a general rule, if you miss shots early, it doesn’t change her mindset,” Thibault said in the postgame press conference.

That’s especially important given that Toliver missed her first four shots of the game and appeared to be headed for another down game in a rollercoaster season. It’s something even she admitted could have been deflating earlier in her career.

A steady veteran presence is another quality that the 30-year-old Toliver adds to a Mystics team that seems to have turned it on at the perfect time.

“We want to make a run I didn’t come here to be a passive, tentative player,” Toliver said. “I came here to dominate.”

Toliver would know what that takes. She’s coming from a Sparks team that won the WNBA championship to a Mystics organization that before last week, had not advanced in the WNBA Playoffs since 2002. Just one week later, the Mystics have won a pair of single-elimination games and will begin a semifinal series Tuesday night in Minnesota.

“I came here to build something and win,” Toliver said. “I think we have the pieces. we’ve obviously had highs and lows, but we’ve just kind of stayed the course.”

That applies to the Mystics and to Toliver herself. They’re riding the wave.