(Image Credit- Washington Mystics twitter)
Is any team in the WNBA playing basketball as well as the Connecticut Sun right now?
That’s a rhetorical question with a very clear answer: No. And it’s not even close.
The Connecticut Sun, winners of their last nine games, played a depleted Washington Mystics team on Tuesday night and won the game in commanding fashion, 85-75. Although the Mystics kept the game impressively close in the first half, and chipped away at the lead in the fourth quarter, the final ten point margin makes the result seem more contested than it was. The Connecticut Sun outscored the Mystics 29-16 in the third quarter, and dominated the game on the glass (38 rebounds to the Mystics’ 20). They were led by Jonquel Jones, who scored a season-high 31 points to go along with 14 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Brionna Jones got her second double-double in as many games, contributing 22 points and 10 rebounds. Jasmine Thomas had six assists.
Even a quiet offensive game from DeWanna Bonner (7 points) couldn’t stop the Sun, who lead the league in defensive rating and are second overall in net rating. And the play on the floor backs up the stats; it’s beautiful basketball. There are a few areas the Sun could continue to improve: more bench production; limiting turnovers (they currently average the second most turnovers per game in the league at 15, which was the number they hit on Tuesday night). But overall, the Sun look ready to go all the way. They’ve beaten Las Vegas (currently second in the standings) three times this season, and now lead them by 1.5 games. Jonquel Jones is a frontrunner for MVP. Brionna Jones should win Most Improved Player. Briann January is making a good case for Defensive Player of the Year. Jasmine Thomas won the June WNBA’s Community Assist Award for her work both with youth in the community and to benefit the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. And perhaps most importantly, everyone on the team is on board to promote all of their stars. Their social media team seems to be having a good time as well.
The Mystics, in the meantime, have lost ten of their last thirteen, yet are still only percentage points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. They trail the New York Liberty by less than half a game. Against the Sun, the Mystics were without Tina Charles, who still has a left gluteal strain. The earliest she will be back is for a game on the road against Seattle on September 7th. Elena Delle Donne, who made a brief and triumphant return to the Mystics following 682 days away from competitive play, hasn’t played since something felt off during this past Thursday’s game against Dallas. She was listed as “questionable” for Tuesday’s game against the Sun and declared “out” before tip off.
With a shorthanded squad, the Mystics did what they could. But after an exhilarating (and probably exhausting) come-from-behind win against Dallas, they were outmatched against a powerful and disciplined Sun’s team. The bane of the Mystics’ existence has been the third quarter this season, and against the Sun, it was no different. It’s a little late in the season for silver linings, as each of the Mystics’ remaining games fall in the must-win category, but if this Mystics can take solace in anything, it’s that against the Sun, Ariel Atkins went 6-8 from the field, finally finding a consistent offensive stroke that has eluded her since coming back from the Olympic Break. (“It felt good to see the ball go in some,” Atkins said after the game.) Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored a game-high 17 points. Natasha Cloud dished out 12 assists, and held DeWanna Bonner to 2 for 12 from the field. Myisha Hines-Allen continues to absolutely shine since coming back from injury, and aside from adding reliable scoring (16 points in this game) to a Mystics team sorely needing options, she is also a fierce defender (4 steals on Tuesday!). “I’m happy with how hard we played,” said Coach Mike Thibault after the game. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added, “It helps when you have really good teammates who give you confidence.” Atkins echoed that, praising Leilani Mithcell in particular: “Lei’s been in the league for a minute, so her veteranship and who she is as a person is very important to this team…She’s the type of leader who you can go to for just about anything.” The players on this team love, value, and respect each other. Their coach believes in them. But time is running out for the Mystics to get healthy and make a run.