(Image courtesy of Washington Mystics twitter)
After a disappointing four game slide, the Mystics were able to win a thrilling game against Chicago in overtime on Saturday, 89-85. With over 8,300 fans in Wintrust Arena, many of them AAU players in town for the Nike Tournament of Champions, the crowd was loud and rolicking, and the arena had a playoff-like atmosphere. The game, with breathtaking theatrics on offense and triumphant stops on defense, didn’t disappoint.
The contest was tight through all of regulation. Though the Mystics led for much of the first half, the Sky stormed back to close the gap in the second quarter and went into halftime trailing 46-44. The Mystics and the Sky would exchange leads for much of the second half as well, but with 7:40 left in the 4th Quarter and the Mystics up by 9 (73-62), it seemed like the game might have a quieter finish than anticipated. Instead, the Sky went on a run. A three by Allie Quigley, a beautiful one footed put-back from Candace Parker, a couple of beautiful rocket passes from Courtney Vandersloot to Stephanie Dolson cutting in the lane, and the Sky were up by two points with four seconds to go. Natasha Cloud inbounded the basketball to Ariel Atkins who found herself wide open for a three. She missed, but Tina Charles, playing hero, went up to get the rebound and, with two players on her, put the ball into the basket just before time expired.
In overtime, it was all Mystics. Natasha Cloud made a beautiful layup. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough made a foul shot. Theresa Plaisance took a charge from Candace Parker. Tina Charles hit a three. Ariel Atkins had a huge steal. The Mystics came up big down the stretch and left Chicago with the win.
The Mystics’ success in the game was very much a team effort. The game saw a new starting five: Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Theresa Plaisance, Tina Charles, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. Walker-Kimbrough, along with Megan Gustafson, had joined the Mystics prior to the game against the Liberty on a 7-day contract. Walker-Kimbrough had been drafted by the Mystics sixth overall in the 2017 draft and played with them through their 2019 Championship season. Her return has been a kind of homecoming. In the game against the Sky, she scored 12 points. Gustafson, meanwhile, came off the bench to grab 9 rebounds.
The return of Natasha Cloud, who had missed the past five games with an ankle injury, was a real difference maker for the Mystics. She brought her incredible court vision to the floor which translated to eleven assists including this beautiful full-court pass to Shatori Walker-Kimbrough under the baseline.
Natasha Cloud returns to the court and already throwing full court passes to Shatori Walker-Kimbrough 😳 pic.twitter.com/X5zK8tmYlE— WNBA Got Game (@wnbagotgame) July 11, 2021
Mike Thibault had said that Cloud would be on a minutes-limit in the 20s, but when the final buzzer went off, Cloud had played thirty-five. “She might have just killed me if I took her out in the overtime,” Thibault said.
Ariel Atkins had 14 points, 7 assists, and the Mystics were +14 with her on the floor in part because of her stifling defense. She had a scary collision with Diamond DeSheilds in the second quarter and exited the game with what looked like a head injury. But she returned before the half, in a gritty, tough-as-nails performance. That’s an Olympian for you.
While the whole team showed up big, the Mystics could not have won this game without Tina Charles, who had 34 points and 17 rebounds (her eighth double-double of the season) including five offensive boards. To quote her teammate Ariel Atkins, “Like, what? That’s crazy!” She also played 43 out of the 45 minutes in the game. She simply wouldn’t quit. And it’s hard to argue that Charles has built a very strong case to be the MVP. She’s putting up career scoring numbers (and is currently on pace to set the WNBA average scoring record), and has improved every aspect of her game, perhaps most notably her three-point shot.
After the game, Tina Charles was full of praise for her teammates, calling the game “a collective win” and calling out each individual teammate for their efforts. “It was a great win that everyone was involved in,” she said.
And that’s the culture of this Mystics team.They praise and fight for each other. With Charles and Atkins heading to the Olympics, the rest of the team will rest and recover before returning to practice. Elena Delle Donne might be returning. Emma Meeseman, too. Hopefully Myisha Hines-Allen and Erica McCall will both be healthy. The second half of the season gives the Mystics plenty of time to build on this win.
The Mystics return to WNBA-action on August 15 against the Las Vegas Aces.