The Washington Mystics showed that this is a different year and a different team. They not only survived a flat out war with the New York Liberty, but were the aggressors for stretches in their 67-54 win last night in the Verizon Center. In past years, teams like the Liberty and Indiana Fever would get Washington off their game by being a little extra physical, in the hopes of getting Mystics players to worry about the contact versus the play. That lead to pleading with referees at times, overall bad body language and more. That wasn’t the case last night as Washington proved that they aren’t going to just just accept getting pushed around, as Natasha Cloud stated after the game, they “punched back.”
The Mystics and Liberty definitely didn’t set the world on fire from an offensive standpoint, both teams shot under 33% from the field. There were only 9 fast break points combined. Olympians Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne combined to shoot just 7-of 31. The biggest difference between the two was that Delle Donne got to the line more.
The “Goon Squad” has played a pivotal role in nearly every game this season for the Mystics. They came through for Washington on a night where their starters struggled to put the ball in the basket. Trailing late in the first quarter, the three-player wrecking crew came in with the Mystics trailing and trying to avoid a knockout punch from the Liberty. The went on an 11-0 run shortly after being inserted into the game. That energy and grit on both ends of the floor really changed the game, they would score a combined 30 points in the contest.
The Mystics held the Liberty to 19 points combined in the second and third quarters, while scoring 37 in that same span.
Washington is now 10-5 and they didn’t play great offensively, their defense was exceptional. There’s still has a ways to go from a chemistry standpoint, something that should improve with Emma Meesseman returning for this 5-game, 11 day road trip they’re about to embark on.
Below area few observations from the game.
Slow Start. Washington has struggled with slow starts in several games this season, it’ll be interesting to see if there will be a lineup change at some point. It’s also fair to point out that for 11 of their 15 games, they’ve played without their starting center. If the starting lineup does remain the same, they have to find a way to avoid those stagnant stretches offensively. Against the two teams that played in the Finals last season, that could be a death sentence.
Goon Squad. Immediately making an impact when they needed it most, they literally changed the complexion of the game. That unit only gets stronger once Emma returns as Krystal Thomas re-joins that second unit. Ivory Latta and Tianna Hawkins have been exceptional in the offensive department when they get inserted into games. Latta hit the only triples of the evening for Washington (4-of-25), she went 4-for-6 from deep on her way to 15 points. Tianna would finish with 13 points, 3 rebounds, and more importantly 4 steals. Natasha Cloud’s impact this season has been overlooked, she’s the third member of this second unit and did much more damage than her box score line of 2 points, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 rebounds states. Her plus/minus was a +21, the same as Latta and Hawkins finished with a +16. Each in their own way, they make up for arguably the best second unit in the league.
Defense. The Mystics did an amazing job on that end of the floor, the ball pressure was good and there weren’t many lapses on that end of the floor. The guards did an outstanding job of digging down on post catches to help disrupt Tina Charles rhythm, as well as hitting the glass. They were able to switch pick-and-rolls and just use their length to be extra disruptive on the perimeter, the Liberty wound up turning it over 19 times. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Tayler Hill, and Natasha Cloud were great in that regard.
Physicality. It’s a different mentality this year, Cloud stated as much after the game. Washington’s now ready to trade punches with teams versus just taking it and getting frustrated. There’s still a ways to go for a few individual players as it pertains to playing through that type of contact. Still, it was a great sign that as a team they embraced the physical challenge and didn’t back down.