Despite Strong Starts, the Mystics Miss the Mark

By: Hannah Oberman-Breindel
Posted: August 20, 2021

(Image credit: Washington Mystic twitter)

The Mystics have played three games since returning to play following the Olympics, a two-game series against the Aces (in Vegas) and then a game last night against the Mercury (in Phoenix). And for six quarters of these games, the Washington Mystics looked like they had the talent and drive to compete with the best teams in the WNBA, to perhaps BE the best team in the WNBA. The trouble was, these six quarters did not make up one single complete game. 

In each of the Mystics’ games against the Aces, the Mystics looked like the team to beat in the first half, only to fall apart in the second half. Both of the games against Las Vegas were close, competitive affairs. In the first game, the Mystics got great production from multiple people — 20 points for Tina Charles and Ariel Atkins; 16 points and 8 rebounds from Myisha Hines-Allen in a triumphant return to the court; and 11 points and 10 assists from Natasha Cloud. But they couldn’t close the game and instead let the Aces rally from 22 points down to win the game by a single point.

The second game against the Aces looked a little different but had a similar result. The Mystics went into halftime up 8 but ended up losing the game by 10. Natasha Cloud had 8 assists. Tina Charles had 30 points and 10 rebounds; Ariel Atkins contributed 24 points. But no other Mystics players (aside from Atkins and Charles) were in double figures. And the Mystics couldn’t stop Kelsey Plum, who scored 24 points, 21 in the second half. After that game, Coach Mike Thibault commented bluntly, “[Vegas] made shots. We don’t have the size to match up with them right now. I thought, again in the second half, their switching, all the things we worked on in the last two days, we didn’t solve it. We’re not as good as them right now.”

The Mystics went to Phoenix feeling like it was a must-win game, but after a strong first half, they simply couldn’t sustain their level of play. Almost nobody looked good. They shot 21-75 from the floor (28%). Brittney Griner scored 30 points and had 12 rebounds for the Mercury, Skylar Diggins-Smith scored 17, and the Mystics had no counter. Though Tina Charles mustered 17 points, she did it on 5 for 16 shooting, and only managed 6 boards. Because the Mystics rely so heavily on Charles, a poor game for her usually results in a loss. Natasha Cloud, who averages 6.2 assists per game, and had notched 8 and 10 assists in the two games against Vegas, had only two assists against the Mercury, and the team had only nine assists total. Ariel Atkins shot 2 of 16 from the field. The Mystics simply can’t win games playing like that.

After the game, Mike Thibault said, “We are exhausted. Our Olympians are tired. It showed up in our shooting legs tonight…We had no legs to shoot the ball tonight. We just ran out of gas.” It’s true that the Mystics had a grueling stretch on the road to begin the latter part of the season, playing three games in five days. And the players who were in Tokyo can’t be sleeping well, having traveled from Tokyo to DC and then to PST for the Vegas game and MST for the Phoenix game. (Ariel Atkins threw a trip home to Texas in that mix as well.) But Leilani Mitchell was quick to say, “I don’t think being fatigued or tired is an excuse…It’s literally from the first second in the third quarter that we come out flat, that we’re not on our front foot.” Myisha Hines-Allen agreed, “Yes, we’re tired. But we’ve got to learn how to fight through it.”

Hopefully the Mystics figure it out soon. With these three losses, the Mystics dropped to 10th place in the league, two full games behind Dallas, who holds the 8th spot, and now also half a game behind the LA Sparks who have won three games in a row.

Even with the disheartening losses of the week, there are a few positives to focus on:

  1. The Mystics really did look excellent in the first half of each of the games this week. This doesn’t get them wins, but it should offer a blueprint for what works.
  1. The Mystics are very good at turning teams over. The Mercury turned the ball over 18 times as a result of the Mystics’ quick hands and ample pressure, and in the second game against Las Vegas, the Aces turned the ball over 14 times (two turnovers more than their season average). If the Mystics can be more clinical in making baskets after turnovers, they’ll be in good shape down the stretch.
  1. Getting Myisha Hines-Allen back from injury is HUGE for the Mystics. In the Mercury game, Hines-Allen was the only player who put together a remotely decent game, with 11 points (on 4 of 11 shooting) and 9 rebounds. If she can regain the form she had in the Wubble, when she was named to the All-WNBA Second Team, she’ll offer the Mystics another scoring option (to go along with Tina Charles and Ariel Atkins), along with a powerful defensive presence inside the paint. 
  1. Elena Delle Donne might be returning — and perhaps as soon as Sunday against the Storm, in what is now a nationally televised game (at 3pm on ESPN). Even if she’s playing limited minutes, Delle Donne’s return would surely galvanize the Mystics. 

We shall wait and see. 

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