An early title favorite keeps on winning
WASHINGTON — On Sunday, two of basketball’s best coaching minds sparred in front of two of DC’s most famous athletes. Mike Thibault’s Washington Mystics defeated Brian Agler’s Dallas Wings 86-62, and former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams and current Wizards guard John Wall were among the near-capacity crowd.
The Mystics overpowered the Wings with five double-figure scorers and 43 points off its bench. Veteran forward Tianna Hawkins scored a career-high 21 points, and fellow reserve (and former Dallas Wing) Aerial Powers added 18.
Here are three takeaways from the game, which represented Washington’s fourth straight win and Dallas’ fourth straight loss.
Physical game doesn’t slow Mystics offense down much
The Mystics offense came into Sunday’s game averaging better than 97 points over its past three games. The Wings attempted to slow them down by being physical all over the court and double-teaming Mystics star Elena Delle Donne in the post. The Mystics tried to counter the double-teams with three-point shooting, with ten of their first 14 shots being from 3-point range, but they only converted 3 and trailed by five points after the first quarter.
However, just as they did in their previous two games, the Mystics figured things out in the second quarter. The Wings continued to double Delle Donne throughout the game, and that left Hawkins (3-5 3-point shooting), Powers (2-5), Natasha Cloud (3-7), and Kristi Toliver (2-4) open on the perimeter. All four of those players along with Delle Donne scored at least 13 points. The Mystics’ future opponents will each have to decide whether to adopt Dallas’ strategy—commit to shutting down Delle Donne and risk the Mystics getting hot on the perimeter—or close out hard on the Mystics’ many shooters and give Delle Donne more room to operate.
Neither strategy seems particularly appealing at the moment, as the Mystics scored nearly 86 points despite not shooting particularly well from the floor (44%). (As an example of what can happen with slightly better shooting, they scored 103 against Chicago on Wednesday on 50% shooting.) For their part, the Wings shot 46% but had only two players in double figures, forwards Glory Johnson (15 points) and Imani McGee-Stafford (10 points).
While the game was not a foul-fest, with 28 between the two teams, it was chippy enough that Elena Delle Donne got a rare technical foul for chirping at an official about Dallas’s physicality. (Thibault called it a “good technical” and said, “She’d been hacked all game and was tired of it, so she spoke up.”)
Mystics don’t miss a beat with different lineups
This was only the Mystics’ second game without Emma Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh, both of whom will represent Belgium at the upcoming EuroBasket tournament. They left D.C. on June 6 and will not return until July. When asked before the game about how the scouting report on Washington changes without Meesseman, Dallas’ Brian Agler gave a prescient response: “Well, they played pretty well without her last year, didn’t they? … I don’t see them missing a beat. Nothing against her. It’s just how they are.”
The Mystics’ starting lineup is unchanged for now, as Thibault had brought Meesseman off the bench to start the season in anticipation of her departure. However, their bench is definitely thinner without Meesseman’s 13.3 points and 4.3 rebounds a game, as well as Mestdagh’s ability to run the point and hit 3-pointers. Thibault will mix and match different combinations of players to compensate for that production. At one point in the second quarter, the Mystics got great energy from a lineup of starting guard Kristi Toliver and four reserves.
The good news for the Mystics is that they have many players who can step up. Through the team’s first four games, five Mystics had scored between 43 and 53 points this season and four had at least 15 total rebounds. Against Dallas, Hawkins and Powers were the ones to take charge, Hawkins by hitting three 3-pointers and pulling down six rebounds and Powers by hitting six of her ten shots and creating space for teammates with her aggressive drives to the basket. Thibault also praised guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who scored only four points but played tough defense and was +20 in 17 minutes.
Several roster updates for both teams
Over the weekend, both teams dealt with players being unavailable due to injury or EuroBasket. On Saturday, Washington signed Shey Peddy to replace Meesseman and Mestdagh. Peddy was a 2012 second-round draft pick by Chicago and was invited to the Mystics’ training camps in 2013 and 2019, but had never made a WNBA roster until now. Thibault told High Post Hoops before the game that he signed a guard rather than a forward for several reasons: Peddy is familiar with the team’s plays from training camp; she gives the team another point guard; and she “balanced our roster” in terms of giving the team two healthy players at every position.
Before Sunday’s game, Thibault told High Post Hoops that he wasn’t sure how much playing time Peddy would get this season, but she did make her first career WNBA appearance in the game’s waning minutes, recording no stats.
Thibault also told High Post Hoops that rookie Kiara Leslie, who had knee surgery in early May, had a second surgery recently to try to determine why she was having continued knee pain. The surgery revealed “no physical reason” for the pain, but it is unlikely that Leslie will be ready to play this season. “It’s kind of a lost year [for her] right now,” Thibault said, “other than to be around here and learn and watch, get stronger, get her body right. Next year will be more of her rookie year.”
The Dallas Wings had their own injury woes on Sunday, as rookie guard Arike Ogunbowale sprained her left ankle in the second quarter and did not return. It is not yet known how long she will be out. In a cruel twist of fate, Ogunbowale had written “J Shep” on her left shoe in tribute to her former college teammate Jessica Shepard, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear on Saturday.
The Wings will also lose Glory Johnson soon when she heads overseas to represent Montenegro at EuroBasket. Agler said that she would depart sometime between June 15th and June 20th and that he expects players like Azura Stevens and Theresa Plaisance to get more minutes in Johnson’s absence. Stevens and Plaisance combined for 18 minutes, six points, and one rebound against Washington.
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