The Washington Mystics started their 2017 campaign with a win over the visiting San Antonio Stars, 89-74. The crowd of 6,126 made enough noise for double that amount in the Verizon Center. Three of Washington’s starters finished the game having scored in double figures, 10 players got in on the action. The Stars were without last year’s first round pick Moriah Jefferson and this year’s first overall selection Kelsey Plum. They’re also missing one of the better shooters in the league in Kayla McBride who missed last season with a fracture in her foot. Still, in the past Washington hasn’t taken care of business in similar situations. That wasn’t the case yesterday as the Mystics beat the Stars, without Monique Curries 31 points the score may have looked worse.
The Mystics raced out to a 10 point lead in the first quarter due to good ball movement and sound defense. The crowd got what they wanted to see when Elena Delle Donne scored her first basket as a Mystic and the team’s first basket of the year on a pick-and-pop with Tayler Hill. Delle Donne scored 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting in just 23 minutes. On what would be come a theme of the night, the Stars wouldn’t just willingly go away. They kept playing hard and the main culprit was former Mystic and D.C. native Monique Currie, with 18 first half points. Washington would lead 46-39 at the half.
The home team had a few sloppy moments in the third quarter, but not anything that put them in real danger. Tianna Hawkins played a role in them fighting through that rough period and regaining their hold on the game. With Delle Donne out of the game due to foul trouble, the former Terp reminded everyone what kind of impact she can provide. She finished the game with 9 points and 6 rebounds, 3 of which were on the offensive glass. Natasha Cloud also played a role during that stretch, providing great defense and being aggressive on the offensive end with her decision making. Ivory Latta got in on the action as well, it’s great to see her healthy and she gave Washington a lift in her 17 minutes.
Last year’s leading scorers Emma Meesseman and Tayler Hill picked their spots and were attacked as needed. Hill finished with 15 points and 4 assists, Meesseman really did a little of everything. Her 13 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals were impressive considering she had only two practices before this game. The Mystics would close things out in the fourth quarter, their ball movement continued to put their scorers in good situations. Despite the inconsistent way the game was called from a foul standpoint, they were able to limit the Stars to one shot on most possessions. San Antonio had 7 offensive rebounds for the entire game, Washington had 14 and won the battle on the glass by 15.
While the offense wasn’t a peak efficiency, Washington should take pride in their defense and rebounding in a game in which they made just 6 three-pointers. The Mystics head out on the road for their next two games. They’ll take on the reigning champion Los Angeles Sparks followed by a bout with the Seattle Storm, their next home game is May 24 when they host the Chicago Sky.
Defense. Ball pressure and rotations were on point for much of the game. EDD getting in foul trouble was a result of a questionable whistle at times and as Coach Thibault said after the game, her getting there “a count late” at times. They surrendered just 7 offensive rebounds for the game, an indication that many defensive possessions finished the correct way via a defensive rebound. The Mystics were extremely handsy all game, not the grabby, holding type, but deflections. Their perimeter players did an outstanding job of pressing up on ball handlers and their bigs switched when needed or gave a hard hedge. That is what really kept the Stars not named Monique Currie from getting a rhythm. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt did a great job of helping out on the glass, she pulled down 9 rebounds total, 7 on the defensive end.
Depth. This was discussed several times in training camp, preseason, and as recent as media day. Five players from the bench got minutes in this game, three of which played at least 14 minutes. There were times when Coach T platoon subbed, sending four in at a time. He went 10 players deep against the Stars, the only two players that didn’t play were Washington’s first and second round picks from this year’s draft in Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Jennie Simms. With that many players getting minutes, no starter played 30 minutes yesterday. If this is any indication on how the rotations may go this year, the Mystics will surely be able to wear teams down with their depth.
Ball Movement. The Mystics were guilty of over passing at times, but that’s as harsh a criticism that can be applied to their offense. There were several possessions in this game in which all five players or at least four players touched the ball before a shot went up. This is not to say that if a great shot was found earlier that it isn’t okay, it’s to convey the fact that this team is already in the habit of passing up good looks for great looks. The defense was literally at their mercy at times as not everyone could be covered, especially when San Antonio started to send a double on post catches. The ball moved and wide open shots were the result. When guards attacked the basket off the dribble, there was so much space as the defense couldn’t leave a shooter to provide help. It should only get better once the team continues to gel.
Chemistry. This isn’t something that is easily quantified, but it’s something that was very apparent while watching yesterday’s game. The Mystics live that “family” vibe several of them have mentioned. It’s not fake, all through yesterday’s game the bench was engaged. There was constant talking from those watching and those on the court. Elena, Tayler, Kristi, and Natasha have all talked at length both when prompted and not about the importance of chemistry on and off the court. It’s only been one game, but this truly may be something special hear in D.C. It’s professional sports, there’s going to be adversity at some point this season, there will be a rough stretch and that family, that togetherness will play a huge role in them reaching their ultimate goal. It’s only been one game, but their interactions with eachother on and off the floor, on and off the court is definitely worth keeping an eye on. Can’t fake it.