(Image courtesy of Connecticut Sun twitter)
As a nascent reporter for both the Connecticut Sun and the Washington Mystics (that’s ONE SINGLE Sun, and many, many Mystics), I approached Tuesday night’s game with a great deal of trepidation. Even if a reporter’s primary objective is to chronicle in an unbiased manner, when we are assigned to particular teams, it is inevitable that we become invested. We are, after all, watching these games every night, and not others. We learn about the players, about their families, their histories, the statistical minutia of their play. We become experts of a sort, and familial, and even proud, the way one is about a distant and extremely talented cousin.
So when my two teams were set to play each other, I wondered how it would feel. Would I, in my position, feel as Richard Williams and Oracene Price do when they watch Venus and Serena play each other? Or like Jon and Karen Samuelson, if Katie Lou and Karlie ever competed. Perhaps more accurately, I was in a position like Gregory McCall, the father of Erica McCall of the Washington Mystics and DeWanna Bonner of the Connecticut Sun who did in fact watch his daughters’ teams play each other last night. (I recognize that in these imperfect analogies, I am imagining a non-existent genetic link to professional athletes. Would that I were so lucky!)
I think most parents can only hope that both of their kids have great games, and that the game stays close. And that’s what I found myself hoping for on Tuesday evening – a close game between a resurgent Connecticut Sun and the scrappy Washington Mystics, where both teams played well.
That close game was not to be. The Sun beat the Mystics 90-71, and the score was actually closer than the game felt.
The Sun dominated the Mystics. Though the Mystics hung around for parts of the first half, by the second half, they looked completely outmatched and gassed. The Sun outrebounded the Mystics by an almost inconceivable 52 to 13.
Jonquel Jones, one of the Sun’s star players, returned to the team, having dominated EuroBasket for Bosnia and Herzegovina at a record setting pace. Mere mortals like this reporter might have been affected by jet lag (Jones’s plane had landed just 36 hours earlier), but Jones is no mere mortal. Instead, she gave a truly dominating performance: 23 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. She had more rebounds on her own than THE ENTIRE MYSTICS TEAM. Take that in for a second.
Jasmine Thomas hit seven 3-pointers, a career high. Brionna Jones continued to offer excellent play inside the paint and on the glass (14 points, 9 rebounds). Off the bench, Kaila Charles nearly got another double-double (10 points, 8 rebounds), and Natisha Hiedeman contributed 15 points.
It tells you a lot about how dominant the Sun were when DeWanna Bonner, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week finished the game with only 2 points, though she did have 8 rebounds and 7 assists. It just goes to show that Players of the Week help their team in all sorts of ways, even when their shots aren’t falling.
The win on Tuesday was Curt Miller’s 100th in the WNBA. His players celebrated him in style.
Milestone wins happen because you are surrounded by incredible coaches and players through the years. Thanks to our crew. 🙏🚿 https://t.co/O04xqOFU1w— Curt Miller (@CurtMillerWBB) June 30, 2021
While the Sun played excellent basketball, the Mystics were also at a significant disadvantage. They only had six healthy players for the game, due to a combination of injuries and releases. One has to imagine that the lack of rebounds had something to do with the Mystics’ limited numbers. When you only have six players available, you can’t afford to get physical and potentially get called for a foul or get hurt. Your team simply can’t sustain it. So, the Mystics backed off bodies and off the glass, and when you’re playing like that, you can’t win.
Tina Charles continued to do Tina Charles things. She scored 26 points and had 4 assists. Ariel Atkins added 19, with 5 assists, and seemed to be more comfortable shooting the ball than she had been over the course of the last few games.
And why did the Mystics only have six players? Part of the answer has to do with injuries to many of their key players. Natasha Cloud warmed up with the team, but her ankle was still too tender, so she was ruled out to play. Myisha Hines-Allen is still out with an injury to her patellar tendon. Erica McCall has a knee injury. And Elena Delle Donne’s back injury will keep her on the bench at least through the Olympic Break.
But beyond the injuries keeping players on the bench, the Mystics also waived three players on Monday: Kiara Leslie, Stella Johnson, and Megan Gustafson. Gustafson had been signed to a hardship contract only the week before but had given pretty solid minutes in the post. Leslie was the team’s first round draft pick in 2019. She had just come off concussion protocols. Johnson had played extremely limited minutes this season after having a solid season in the bubble last year. None of these players were stars, but having them on the bench on Tuesday surely would have helped.
Monday was the day that contracts become fully guaranteed for the rest of the year. In order to keep flexibility to potentially sign other role players, or to simply maintain some salary cap space, the Mystics thought it was in their best interest to release the three players. Coach Mike Thibault said it’s possible that the Mystics will look to resign a player or several from the group above later this week when they can sign them to shorter contracts. These moves are therefore certainly understandable when thinking about the team’s long-term prospects. But they also placed a heavy burden on the players who competed on Tuesday night. And they speak to the larger issues that face the WNBA related to limited roster and cap space.
“Clearly we were overmatched physically in size and everything else but I’m proud of those six players for what they did,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. And there’s clearly a lot to admire about how the group of Ariel Atkins, Tina Charles, Shavonte Zellous, Sydney Wiese, Theresa Plaisance, and Leilani Mitchell fought, despite adversity.
But for a game that was on National Television and hyped both as a rematch between the 2019 Finalists and two leading MVP-candidates (Jonquel Jones and Tina Charles), the game fell disappointingly flat in part because it never felt like a fair fight. With more bodies, the Mystics might have been able to be more aggressive.
Instead, the Sun took over. With Jonquel Jones back, they look like a team to beat, a team that can play with, and even win against, Seattle and Las Vegas.
The Sun are heading to Indiana and will play the Fever on Thursday. They will look to continue all of the excellent work they did on both ends of the floor. The Mystics, meanwhile, have a long rest and don’t play again until they face the Liberty in New York on July 3rd. Hopefully some extra time between games will allow more Mystics players to get healthy.And I can go back to studying, worrying about, watching, and investing in both of my teams without the added anxiety that comes when they play each other – at least until next time.
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