(Image Courtesy of official WNBA twitter)
After that exhilarating win in Seattle, a game that ended in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Mystics simply could not sustain their momentum. They lost the other two games of their road trip — on Thursday to the L.A. Sparks, 89-82 and on Saturday to the Wings, 74-85.
In both games, the Mystics were competitive but couldn’t find stops or buckets when they needed them the most.
Washington is still playing short-handed and one has to imagine that fatigue is a factor for all of their starters. Tina Charles, Ariel Atkins, and Leilani Mitchell all averaged around 35 minutes a game during the three-game road trip. And although Tina Charles continued on her torrid double-double pace and the Mystics got great play from Australian Olympian Leilani Mitchell (26 points, 6 rebounds against the Sparks; 14 points, 7 assists against the Wings), the Mystics couldn’t find a way to win either game. Tina Charles dominated the first quarter of both contests, but then, as defenses double and triple-teamed her, there were few other reliable offensive options, so Mitchell and Charles continued to score seemingly through sheer force of will.
Going into Tuesday’s game back in DC, despite losing two out of three on the road, there is still plenty for the Mystics to feel optimistic about.
Though the Mystics had an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers against LA, they took care of the ball much better against Dallas and only had 10 turnovers.
Ariel Atkins continues to play with a ton of grit, generosity, and determination, putting her body on the line for the team despite being questionable with a back injury. She got hit in the Seattle game and had precautionary x-rays taken on Wednesday. She’d also been battling a back injury earlier in the season. Even though she was playing through pain, she gave her team everything she had. She was hard on herself after the Dallas game, saying that she “needed to be more aggressive so that we can have a more balanced scoring sheet.” Atkins grew up 15 minutes from College Park Center, where the Dallas Wings play, and had family in the stands for the game.
Ariel Atkins from DEEP 🎯 pic.twitter.com/dNjE9pqBxy— WNBA Got Game (@wnbagotgame) June 26, 2021
In order to survive the rash of injuries to their players, the Mystics signed Megan Gustafson to a hardship contract on Monday. Gustafson won the Naismith Player of the Year Award in 2019, her senior year at Iowa. Drafted 17th by Dallas in 2019, the Wings waived Gustafson before the start of the 2019 season, only to re-sign her again 5 games in. She played sparingly with Dallas in 2020, averaging 2.6 points and 2.2 rebounds over the course of 34 games before being waived by Dallas at the start of the 2021 season. Against her former team, Gustafson gave the Mystics 6 points and 4 rebounds in 16 minutes. Against the Sparks, she scored 4 points and had 4 rebounds in 9 minutes. Especially until the missing Mystics get healthy, she’ll continue to provide important minutes off the bench. She seems excited about it, too.
During the road trip, the Mystics also got great minutes out of Shavonte Zellous. During the game against Dallas, the team was +10 when Zellous was on the floor. She started the second half in place of Sydney Weise and, according to Tina Charles, “she’s a big defensive stopper. She takes her defensive assignments very personally.” Zellous brought an energy and intensity every time she was on the floor. In praise of her teammate, Tina Charles added, “To me, I think [Zellous] should be a coach when she’s done playing. She’s so defensive minded. That happens when you come from an organization like Indiana and being under Lin Dunn and being under Steph White, and playing with Tamika Catchings. They took defense personally. And that’s why I was able to learn a lot from [Zellous] during my tenure in New York.”
Ultimately, losing two out of the past three is not ideal, especially because the standings between 4 and 11 are separated by a mere game or two. Coach Mike Thibault was blunt about it. “We need other people to step up and make shots,” he said. “It’s tough when two games in a row, we’ve had two or three people who start have not great shooting nights. It’s hard when you’re shorthanded and you’re tired, you have to make those shots and we’re not right now, and that’s the way it is.”
The Mystics return to play against Connecticut on Tuesday night in DC. (It’s also Pride Night. Get thee a Natasha Cloud bobblehead!)
Hopefully the Mystics will be able to get back in the win column.
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