Delle Donne’s steady scoring leads way
It was a clinical performance from Delle Donne, going 10-for-14 from the field and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line en route to 30 points. She started the night on fire, drilling two 3-pointers and making her other two shots from the mid-range for a 10-point first quarter, which was boosted by nine points from Toliver in the 30-point opening frame.
“It helps when your best players make shots, [like] when you start the game with Toliver and Delle Donne making the shots they did,” Thibault said.
For Thibault, he could tell that his superstar was looking to rebound after a rough effort in Dallas, where she went 2-for-9 from the field for just five points.
“When your best couple of players can score like that, you’re really hard to guard,” Thibault said. “She was locked in tonight. She had a really tough game last time in Dallas, and you could tell in her body language coming into today that she was not happy about the other night. She was all in.”
It’s the 10th time Delle Donne’s scored at least 25 points on the year, and the Mystics are 8-2 when she produces at that clip. They’re also now 12-4 when she gets at least 20 points.
Cloud’s hot hand from behind the arc
But both Delle Donne and Thibault were quick to heap praise upon guard Natasha Cloud, who has settled into a great rhythm after missing three games with a concussion. She also missed time earlier in the season with an illness.
“It’s been terrific. She’s really found a groove in the last month,” Thibault said. “She spent a lot of time in the gym working on it. She had a little bit of a setback when she was sick earlier in the year and it took her a while to get back to her rhythm. But she’s been really good, and I think teams are now figuring out that she’s going to make them pay a little bit.”
Cloud went 4-of-6 from deep on Tuesday night, scoring 15 points to help balance the Mystic offense. In the three games of this 4-game winning streak, she’s now 11-of-16 from 3-point range while also contributing in other ways.
“She’s been so big for our wins,” Delle Donne said. “When she was out with injury, we struggled. We’re a different team when she’s on the floor versus when she’s not, and not just offensively but defensively. Every night, she has the task of defending the best player on the other team. She’s just huge for us in so many ways.”
And while Diana Taurasi finished with 29 points for the Mercury, Cloud’s stingy defense held her to 9-of-21 shooting and 3-of-12 from behind the 3-point line. Her all-around game has been a key part in launching the little run the Mystics are currently on.
Mercury still searching for answers
It’s been a mystifying skid for the one-time conference leaders, who have fallen all the way to seventh place after starting 14-5.
“I wish we could play better because we have the best fans in the WNBA, and we’ve had great energy when we’re on the road. I don’t know what the explanation is,” head coach Sandy Brondello told High Post Hoops.
Taurasi, who had 29 points and seven rebounds on the night, added, “We’ve got a lot of fight, but it’s not coming out in ways that is helping us win games.”
But Brondello is encouraged by how close these last two games — and the win in Vegas before that — have been, even if they were different stylistically. After a defensive battle against the Sparks on Sunday, the superstars led the way on offense, with Brittney Griner dropping 35 points and DeWanna Bonner adding 20 to Taurasi’s 29.
The combined 84 points between the trio is the most in a single non-overtime game in WNBA history, but it also means the bench only scored 14 points on the night. The imbalance — and how the team handles its dependency on their “big three” — is something Brondello isn’t sure how to rectify.
“We’re close. Obviously, we rely on our big three a lot, and I think Steph and Bri have been good for us,” Brondello said. “It’s about getting some stops here and there.
“We [have] just got to get a little more from our bench, and maybe’s it’s me trusting [them] more too, I don’t know, but I just need a little bit more execution when they’re on the court. It’s hard to take out any of the big three, but they need to rest.”