The Indiana Fever have come to be something of a bother to the Washington Mystics, if Washington wishes to take the next step and compete for a championship, it starts with besting the bullies on their block. Think of it like this, the Fever are the Detroit Pistons to the young Chicago Bulls or the Boston Celtics to the Miami Heat early in the ” Big 3″ era. They are the team with championship pedigree that has won at the highest level and only know one way to play, theirs. Indiana ended the young Mystics season last year, on Tuesday night they beat Washington to pull them into a three way tie (Chicago, Indiana, Washington) for second place in the Eastern Conference.
Indiana like those teams mentioned above in the NBA reference has one of those legendary, Hall of Fame type of players on their roster that ensures that they don’t ever go down quietly. That role for the Fever is held by none other than the great Tamika Catchings, she’s been the pillar on which the Fever were built. Washington on the other hand, doesn’t or hasn’t had that player step forward yet as their star or franchise player. They’ve assembled a group of extremely talented players, but as Coach Thibault said after the loss to the Fever, their All-Stars haven’t quite figured it out yet where as Indiana’s are experienced and battle tested.
Tuesday’s game was about how a veteran team imposed it’s will on a young team still trying to find it’s way. The teams have many similarities, especially on the defensive end, but it really comes down to the Fever’s physicality. They play grown up basketball, every inch and foot is earned against their defense. While their offense isn’t pretty, they have players that create mismatches due to their size and skill.
The Mystics as much more of a finesse team, there are a few players on the team that relish the type of game the Fever like to play, but everyone has to buy in to get it done against a bunch like Indiana.
The Mystics were able to get into their offensive sets early on, showing their passing ability to find open shots. They were up 14-11 after the first period, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt led the way by attacking the Fever defense off the dribble and hitting tough shots in the paint. It looked like Washington was going to bust the game open as they started the second period with a quick 6-0 run. Ivory Latta hit a three after using a nice step-back dribble to create space, that would push the Washington lead to 12 at one point, then everything changed.
The game changed due to the Fever extending their ball pressure. By getting up on the Washington ball handlers, it disrupted their size and forced many tough passes to be thrown, most of which were stolen by the Fever leading to baskets in transition. Lynetta Kizer played a big role in getting the run started with her energy off the bench, she scored six quick points upon entering the game. With the Fever locking down the Mystics on the defensive end, they started to get into a rhythm on the other end of the floor. Erlena Larkins didn’t have a great night on the offensive end, but she made up for it with her effort, diving on the floor for loose balls as well as banging for position on the glass. The Fever would hold a 32-31 lead at the half after trailing by as much as 12 points earlier in the half.
Washington has one of the best quartet of bigs in the league, that’s why Indiana wanted to pressure their ball handlers. To make it tough to get the offense set up, disrupt the rhythm, keep the ball out of the hands of their bigs. The strategy paid off as first year All-Stars Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson combined for six points on 11 shots, the ball pressure really affected the Kia Vaughn as she attempted just one shot in 17 minutes of playing time. It wasn’t due to poor positioning, she was doing a good job of establishing position, but the entry passes never came, pressure. LaToya Sanders made her impact on the defensive end, swatting four shots on the night. Her shot wasn’t falling too well either as she tallied just five points in 23 minutes.
It was clear the physical style of play bothered some of the Mystics players, there were a few who played through it and made plays. That’s why they were able to close the 15 point lead to five at one point behind big triples from Latta and Ruffin-Pratt. Unfortunately for them, the Fever would generate a response.
Catchings had 20 points on the night and it was a very quiet 20 at that. Her points were sprinkled all throughout the game, at least 12 of which were all timely baskets. The type of baskets that put out Washington runs. Marissa Coleman’s 11 points were rather timely as well, keeping the Mystics at bay.
The good news for Washington is that there is still time left in the season and the East is far from being decided. If the Mystics want to compete for a championship, they’ll have to beat championship contending teams to do so. The schedule offers no breaks as they host the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday evening, only time will tell if they learned anything from Tuesday’s contest with the Fever.
- Solution. The Mystics have to find the lineup that can match that physicality the Fever play with. There are definitely players on their roster that didn’t let the type of play get to them either mentally or physically, they just fought through it
- Tayler Hill. She just continues to be a rock for Washington, she’s the most consistent perimeter player off the bench. The fact that she often finishes games speaks volumes, she needs more time or for her role to increase, possibly as a starter
- Stick to the script. The Mystics often get into trouble when they forget about their bigs or when they can’t get the ball to them. They have a great luxury in having four quality bigs that are almost interchangeable, but…..they need the ball
- Bria Hartley. The Mystics need pre-injury Bria to return, she’s been able to play minutes for them, but she’s not regained her fearlessness when attacking defenders. As a combo guard, she’s been doing more facilitating when on the court then letting her scoring instincts take over. Imagine if the Mystics had both her and Hill coming off the bench attacking opposing defenses?