It’s only preseason. The Mystics are now 2-0 with one game remaining before the games that count begin. That doesn’t take away from the team’s performance in a win over the Minnesota Lynx in front of their home crowd at the Verizon Center. Tayler Hill showed her diverse game and the home team ran away with a win in their lone home preseason game yesterday.
Hill had a child last season and got back into the flow very late and showed some flashes, but left many wondering how she’d impact the team. She put that to rest already, she has the potential to be a huge x-factor for this team this season. She’s a three point specialist with many other tools, showing the ability to put the ball on the floor and play strong on-ball defense. She was able to do more than just ‘put the ball on the floor’ as she pushed the ball up court and also created shots for teammates in pick-and-roll situations. She finished with 18 points, going 4 of 7 from beyond the arc.Was
The two teams had spent time together the day before the game for the WNBA’s first Analytics scrimmage, this time it was for more than just research as both teams went after it from the opening tip.
On Mystics Media day, the recurring themes were the depth of the team, the versatility, and taking the next step. What better way to test yourself then to play one of the league’s most successful teams in recent memory, a championship caliber team that is always in the hunt. The Minnesota Lynx are eerily similar to the San Antonio Spurs in the mens game. No matter what changes around their three main pieces, they will be in the hunt come the end of the season. While the ‘Big 3’ of Maya Moore, Siemone Agustus, and Lindsay Whalen remain intact, Moore talked about how far her team had to go prior to the game. Speaking directly to the infusion of youth to their roster.
The Mystics were without Ivory Latta, Tierra Ruffin, Armentie Herrington and Tianna Hawkins who is a new mother. The depth on the roster was on full display as Emma Meesseman, Kia Vaughn, Kara Lawson, Bria Hartley and rookie Natasha Cloud.
Last year, the Mystics played good defense but struggled on the offensive end, specifically with their spacing. Both of which looked totally different, well improved rather against the Lynx.
The home team started fast, pressuring the ball on defense with their guards and pushing the pace, embracing the youth on their roster. Coach Thibault said the emphasis was to run this season and he didn’t lie, Washington pushed on missed and made baskets. The pace may have gotten to the Lynx early as the trio of Mystics guards pushed the tempo at every chance they got.
The Lynx were at their best in the first quarter, as Augustus was able to get going in her midrange area and Whalen picked her spots. They were missing the usual stellar play from Moore, who struggled in the first half as the Mystics threw many bodies at her and never really let her get into a rhythm.
Down ten points near the end of the first quarter, Tayler Hill who was the first player off the Washington bench, drilled a three pointer to cut the deficit to 25-18. The Mystics dug in on the defensive end of the floor, stalling the Lynx offense long enough to make a huge run to recapture the lead.
The Lynx would respond as Whalen hit a couple of shots including getting three points the old fashioned way, the hoop with the harm. Hill would respond for Washington with another one of her four triples on the day. The Mystics led at the half, 43-42 while holding the Lynx to just three attempts from deep by pressuring ball handlers and running shooters off of the arc.
The game changed in the third quarter, the Mystics took control and never looked back. Moore started the half off by being a bit more assertive by drilling a three off of a nice curl play. From there, it was all Mystics as they went on a 23-1 run to open and end the game. How did they do it?
Hard nosed defense led to transition opportunities, one of the new wrinkles when Washington was in transition was one of the guards going to the corner for the three point attempt. On 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 breaks, the Mystics were able to further spread the floor and put the defense in horrible position. With the dearth of shooters on the roster, that open three is just as good a look being that it’s open than the lay-up that’s available in a more traditional 2-on-1 fast break.
The most perfect example of the type of balance and spacing in the Mystics offense came in the third quarter. After pushing the ball up court, then backing it out and running the offense, Cloud and Hartley completed two cross court passes. The movement shifted the Lynx defense from side to side and caused Lawson’s defender to drop to the middle to help. That left Lawson wide open for a triple off a drive and kick from Hartley after the last cross court pass.
Another part of the offense that may come to be a staple later in the year, is the pick-and-roll situations with the guards and bigs. Cloud was spectacular in said situations all game, routinely drawing both defenders allowing the screener to either dive or pop unimpeded, both of which ended in high percentage shots. Hartley and Lawson finished the game with five assists a piece, the ball was really moving and with Washington’s bigs having the ability to shoot the ball, it put the Minnesota defense in unenviable positions over and over.
Again, just a preseason game. There was enough on display to show that the Mystics may just have the deepest and most versatile roster in the league, the performance from this game will certainly be a point of reference when the regular season starts.