Kristi Toliver misses sixth straight game, but Washington Mystics cruise

Photo by Domenic Allegra.
Photo by Domenic Allegra. /

On Sunday, the Washington Mystics won their seventh straight home game, defeating the New York Liberty 101-72. Elena Delle Donne scored 22 points, three other players scored at least 14 points, and the team shot 53% from the field to surpass 100 points for the fifth time this season. But the Mystics were not always crisp: they committed 11 turnovers and only outscored the Liberty by one point in the second and fourth quarters combined.

Part of the reason the Mystics looked out of sorts at times was the absence of guard Kristi Toliver. Toliver missed her sixth straight game with a knee injury sustained on August 8 against the Indiana Fever. The injury was originally described as a knee contusion, but head coach Mike Thibault said on Sunday that Toliver is “on a longer-term plan than we originally [thought].” Toliver was not made available to media after Sunday’s game, but she appeared in the locker room briefly, walking with a noticeable limp.

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With Toliver out of the lineup, the Mystics lose a veteran leader, a knock-down shooter, and a steady ballhandler. Toliver is playing in her 11th WNBA season and her third season with Washington, and in 2016, she averaged 12.8 points in the playoffs to help Los Angeles win the WNBA title. In her career, she has shot 39% from behind the arc, and nearly half of her shots have come from that distance. This season, she is averaging 13.0 points per game and a career-high 5.9 assists per game. She is assisting on nearly one-third of the Mystics’ baskets while she is on the court. “It’s been really challenging [not having Toliver],” forward LaToya Sanders said. “She sees so many things on the court.” Wing Aerial Powers added, “It’s her leadership and her shooting and her ball-handling. We really, really appreciate her ball-handling.”

In Toliver’s absence, Powers has moved into the starting lineup and has played extremely well, averaging 15.8 points and making 42% of her 3-point attempts. Players such as starting point guard Natasha Cloud and shooting guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough have also had to do more. Even reserve point guard Shey Peddy, whom the Mystics have signed to multiple temporary contracts this season, has chipped in. She entered Sunday’s game in the first half for only the second time all season and finished with a career-high nine points and two assists. Powers explained, “We really could have used [Toliver] in the Chicago game to help us, but I think we [all] have stepped up.” But even with all those contributions, the Mystics are averaging eight points fewer per 100 possessions when Toliver is off the court this season, which shows how important she is to the team’s success.

Washington’s Kristi Toliver watches her team play against the New York Liberty. Photo by Domenic Allegra.
Washington’s Kristi Toliver watches her team play against the New York Liberty. Photo by Domenic Allegra. /

Toliver wore a knee brace over a full suit on the Mystics’ bench on Sunday, but her teammates were divided about the guard’s game-day “drip,” or style. Powers was a big fan: “She still looks good … I’m like, ‘Okay, girl, I see you!’” But Sanders quipped, “I’m not feeling the combination [of the suit and knee brace]. She needs to get rid of the brace … and put on a uniform. That’s the combination I want.”

However, Sanders did appreciate Toliver’s coaching, which she provided on the bench as well as in the locker room at halftime. “She’s not there on the court, but she’s still helping us,” Sanders explained. Toliver even participated in the starters’ huddle just before the opening tip, then moved to the reserves’ huddle to weigh in as well.

Aerial Powers is escorted off the court after injuring her eye. Photo by Domenic Allegra.
Aerial Powers is escorted off the court after injuring her eye. Photo by Domenic Allegra. /

In the first half, Powers joined Toliver on the injury list for a brief time after getting hit in the eye by New York’s Reshanda Gray. She was taken to the locker room but returned to the game and finished with 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting. After the game, Powers noted that her eye was very painful, still bleeding, and beginning to swell up, but she was confident that she would play in the Mystics’ next game, which is on Tuesday against Los Angeles. “I’ll be great,” she said.

Thibault noted that “everyone at this time of year is hurt, beat up, sore,” but the Mystics hope to have everyone available for the playoffs. Although they’ve shown that they can shoot well without Toliver—setting a WNBA record last weekend with 18 3-pointers against Indiana—the Mystics looked vulnerable in the loss to Chicago and for stretches on Sunday.

A year ago, an injury to Delle Donne in the playoffs hurt Washington’s ability to compete with Seattle in the WNBA Finals. Similarly, to compete with teams like Connecticut, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles this year, Washington will likely need everyone on the floor.

All statistics courtesy of and

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