The Washington Mystics head into the All-Star break on a three game win streak after beating the Tulsa Shock 76-69. That now means the Mystics are undefeated with their new lineup, rookie Natasha Cloud has started the last three games in place of Ivory Latta. As Coach Thibault stated before the winning streak, it allows the Mystics to start teams with a bigger guard on the defensive end. In that time, Latta’s been the first player in the game off the bench in the last three contests. Against the Shock, she seemed to have found her stride in that role as she scored 14 points in that super-sub or sixth man role. It had to be a good feeling for Ivory as she got a chance to beat the team that drafted her coming out of North Carolina University.
Another former Tar Heel had a big game as well, it may not have been big in terms of points, but Tierra Ruffin-Pratt made a definite impact on this game. She set the tone early for Washington in the very first quarter with her aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. Her energy and effort kept Washington locked in on the road against one of the league’s best teams.
The Tulsa are obviously without star guard Skylar Diggins who suffered a season ending ACL injury earlier this season, but they got their other top guard in Odyssey Sims back and she’s picked up some of the slack. The Shock have now lost four in a row, but they are still in a good place in the standings. Courtney Parris dominated the boards, pulling down a career-high 19 to help the Shock win the battle on the glass 48-24.
Plenette Pierson and Rakima Christmas led the way for the home team as they had 14 and 15 points respectively, it just wasn’t enough. Washington’s stifling defense not only kept them in the game, but fueled their run to take the game over. They were able to contest and harass the Tulsa shooters, forcing them to shoot just 31% from the floor and an abysmal 26% from beyond the arc. So while the Shock held and won that battle on the glass, they lost in the turnover margin and didn’t play defense well enough to get the win.
A huge part of the reason Washington shot well was that they were able to play inside-out and the ball movement was very good, they’ve been the top team in the league as far as assists go to this point in the season. Ivory Latta connected on three of her seven attempts from deep, helping Washington shoot 46% from deep. She picked up where Kara Lawson left off the previous game in that department, she had a quiet seven points against Tulsa after scoring 24 against Connecticut.
Of course you can’t play inside-out without good play from your bigs and Washington got just that. While Emma Meesseman has received the lion’s share of attention from opposing defenses, she’s learning to adjust to that pressure and use that attention to open up space for her teammates. One of the biggest benefactors has been her fellow big in Stefanie Dolson, she had another solid outing with 18 points. They’ve started to become trouble for opposing teams as it appears they both may deserve to be doubled and both are willing and good passers, it wasn’t one of their best games as a duo but they got the job done and Washington will go into the All-Star break with a three game win streak.
Back to Natasha Cloud, she’s listed in the starting lineup (at least in the boxscore) as a forward. She’s been the primary ball-handler since receiving her three consecutive starts. As such, it has to be pointed out that she’s improving in the decision making department. Most of her turnovers this season have come from trying to make the right play, but the passing angle may have been a bit off. In her 19 minutes of playing time yesterday, she had six points, five assists and most importantly, no turnovers. She didn’t play as much as the previous two games since Latta got going, but that point about no turnovers had to be mentioned.
The Mystics go into the break at 9-6, they trail the first place Liberty by just 1.5 games. The second half will surely be interesting as this year’s team still hasn’t been fully healthy, it also appears that the shuffling of the lineup may be paying dividends. Washington’s first game of the second half of the season is July 29th, when they host the Seattle Storm.