At full strength, the Mystics look formidable
WASHINGTON — Early in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game between the Chicago Sky and the Washington Mystics, one sequence seemed to sum up the entire evening. Mystics forward Emma Meesseman threw up a long 2-pointer as the shot clock expired that somehow went in, much to the dismay of her defender, Chicago center Stefanie Dolson. Then, on defense, Washington center Tianna Hawkins stripped Chicago point guard Courtney Vandersloot near the top of the key and cruised in for the layup.
The two teams played a tight first quarter, but the Mystics clamped down on defense in the second quarter and cruised to a 103-85 win. It was the Mystics’ first time scoring over 100 since August 9, 2018 (a span of 16 games), while the Sky last gave up 100 points on August 18, 2018, their penultimate game of the season.
Here are three takeaways from the Mystics’ 103-85 win over the Sky:
The Mystics’ 3-point shooting looks just fine, thank you
Mystics coach Mike Thibault said repeatedly during the offseason that he wanted to find more 3-point shooting so teams couldn’t double-team Mystics star Elena Delle Donne. He signed several guards to training-camp contracts, with sharpshooter and former Colorado State star Kim Mestdagh making the squad for the first time.
In a season-opening loss at Connecticut, it looked like Thibault had every reason to be concerned. Playing without Delle Donne and, for most of the game, Kristi Toliver, the 2018 WNBA Finals runner-ups shot 3 for 21 on 3-pointers. At practice a few days later, though, Thibault wasn’t overreacting. “It’s one game. We’ll see,” he said. “As a general rule, you come back to your norm usually, at some point. So if you have good three-point shooters, they’ll start making them.”
Thibault’s words seemed prescient on Saturday, as the team made nine 3-pointers en route to 96 points in its home opener. In Wednesday’s win over Chicago, also at home, the Mystics took it to another level: they drained 13 3s, shooting 10 of 18 from behind the arc in the first half alone. All eleven players scored, and seven different players made at least one 3-pointer. After the game, when asked about the team’s hot shooting at home, Hawkins told High Post Hoops, “It feels good here. We get the reps up, and it just feels good. Like, once you see a shot go in, [your] confidence goes through the roof.”
The Mystics are getting healthier…
After missing the team’s first game, Delle Donne and Toliver returned to the lineup on Saturday and remained healthy Wednesday. Toliver led the team with 19 points on 8 for 14 shooting and chipped in 6 assists, while Delle Donne had 12 points and 7 rebounds.
Another positive sign on Wednesday was that Aerial Powers played for the first time this season after sustaining a gluteal injury in the preseason. With her, Delle Donne, and Toliver healthy, the team now has only one player—rookie Kiara Leslie—out of the lineup, a big improvement in little more than a week.
Against the Sky, Powers finished +15 in 13 minutes of play, scoring nine points on 4 of 7 shooting. Thibault’s assessment was straightforward: “She was great,” he said.
Powers echoed her coach, saying, “[My body is] feeling really good. I’m feeling confident.” She has eased herself back into practice over the past few days, and “Yesterday, we played around with the guys and I went and practiced … just to see how it felt. It felt amazing, so I’m like, ‘Why not try and play a couple of minutes, see how it feels out there?’ and it went well.”
Powers’ return is significant for Thibault and the Mystics, as depth at the wing position has been a question mark to start the season. Ariel Atkins is the starter on the wing, and she had a solid 11-point outing on Wednesday to follow up her 21 points on Saturday. The original plan was for Leslie and Powers to provide depth behind her, but with both injured, Thibault often had to slide players such as Delle Donne or Hines-Allen into that spot when Atkins exited the game. Powers’ return gives the Mystics more scoring and athleticism off the bench, plus another guard who can handle the ball and be dangerous in transition.
…just in time for EuroBasket
Wednesday’s game was the first of three games in five days for the Mystics. That alone would be a challenge for any team, but on Thursday, Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh depart to represent Belgium in the EuroBasket Tournament. They won’t return until July, which will shorten the team’s bench just when it appears to be hitting its stride offensively. Last week, Thibault told High Post Hoops that the team will be able to sign one replacement player to help with depth, and he noted on Wednesday that “We’re going into the next little stretch of games still with the same starting lineup that played in the [WNBA] championship last year. [And] our bench is getting better.”
Atkins, one member of that experienced starting lineup, said that the team would miss Meesseman and Mestdagh, but she expects their return to be smooth sailing. “They’re good people and good players,” Atkins told High Post Hoops. “I don’t think it’ll be hard implementing them back into our team because of who they are just as people, but them leaving … it’s a missing piece. … I guess we’ll figure it out because we don’t really have a choice.”
The Mystics’ first game without Meesseman and Mestdagh is Friday, June 7 at New York, and they’ll cap this stretch of games at home against Dallas on Sunday, June 9. Several Mystics talked about the need to focus on one game at a time and get proper rest. Hawkins summed it up by saying, “You just gotta approach each game with the will to win.”
After falling just short of a WNBA championship last season, you can bet the Mystics will have that will, whether they have all twelve players available or a few pieces missing.
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