Mystics WNBA 

Second unit steps up, Toliver delivers late as Mystics win opener

It as far from a pretty win, but the Washington Mystics were able to open their season with a 82-75  win over the Indiana Fever. The Mystics defense got them through a tough offensive performance, Delle Donne and Toliver knocked down a couple of big shots late. Kristi delivered the dagger with 1:08 left in the game, it was her fourth triple of the night. While Washington only shot 41% from the floor, they shot 44% from deep. That helped them hold off a 21 point, 12 rebound effort from Natalie Achonwa and 16 points from rookie Kelsey Mitchell. Washington got a huge contribution from their second unit, with both Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen making impact plays.

It’s clear the Mystics plan on pushing the pace this season, but they weren’t able to capitalize on those opportunities. Several shots were missed at point blank range and at times, there was a bit of poor spacing and the ball getting stuck. Still, Washington did enough to show that they are a capable three point shooting team. Last year they were near the top of the league in attempts, but near the bottom in makes. Both Monique Currie and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt seemed to adjust their midrange shooting tendencies to help aid in the goal of spacing the floor. They hit the first two triples of the game for Washington. The Mystics led 21-17 at the end of the first quarter despite the duo of Delle Donne and Toliver shooting just 2-for-9. Washington’s defense held Indiana to just 6-of-16 shooting from the floor, a big reason why they were able to hold the lead.

Things got a bit more sloppy on the offensive end for Washington in the second quarter, but that’s where the second unit kind of showed it’s mettle. They’re literally a position-less group out there and it gave the Fever fits. There was nothing but long arms on the floor for Washington in a lineup that went Cloud-Atkins-Shatori-Hawkins-Myisha. They were able to continue that level of defense set by the starters and they scored enough for the Mystics to win the quarter.

Indiana got a bit of life in the second half with the insertion of Kelsey Mitchell, she looked to be a bit more comfortable and really helped her team get back in it. The Mystics pushed the lead to as many as 15 at one point in the third period, but the Fever wouldn’t go away. Fellow Fever rookie Victoria Vivians hit a big three to cut the deficit to seven, but Atkins responded to close the period. The Mystics rookie caught the ball in the right corner, gave her defender two jab steps to create some space before drilling a three pointer. That gave Washington a 10 point lead heading into the fourth.

The second unit clearly has Coach Thibault’s trust, they started the fourth quarter and held retained the 10 point lead. Washington’s starters came back in after the halfway point of the fourth period. Delle Donne hit back-to-back baskets a few possessions later to extend the lead to 10. Achonwa made a living on the offensive glass, she was tough to box out, especially whenever Krystal Thomas had to go hedge and another player was responsible for boxing out Natalie. Vivans came up with a steal that led to a Dupree layup which cut the deficit to six, Washington would lead just 79-73 at that point. That was the last play before Toliver’s dagger.

It was a solid win for Washington, not much to brag about on the offensive end, but it’s uncertain if they could have won a game in this fashion last season. Their defense was the constant and it’s safe to say that their offense will get back to it’s normal state. They host the Las Vegas Aces Tuesday night at Capital One Arena.

Observations

Defense: The Mystics got picked on a bit on that end of the floor last season, obviously the Fever aren’t an offensive powerhouse at this point, but it was quality defense played by Washington. They did the little things for most of the game, their communication is what stood out the most. Krystal Thomas could be heard from the opposite end of the floor on media row, she was doing a great job of letting her guards know where to be and where the help was. The tandem of Currie and Ruffin-Pratt on the wing really stood out, they are very good one-on-one defenders and they did a good job communicating as well. Delle Donne stood out a bit as well, last season her and Toliver were who teams typically tried to attack via pick-and-roll. She did a solid job of hedging and keeping her man in front of her.

Second Unit: I was joking at the media table with a colleague, but we’ll see if this level of play continues before I share this nickname for them. The versatility of this group on both the offensive and defensive ends were amazing, everyone on the floor could at least put the ball on the floor to drive to the basket. Nearly all had the ability to shoot the three as well, Washington may have something special on their hands if this group can continue to grow. It spoke volumes that they started the fourth period and played nearly the first six minutes before giving way to the starters.

Passing: Washington only had 18 assists, but the passes stood out to me. Delle Donne had seven assists, several of which came from cross court passes. Only one of them was a bit off target, but it really put the Fever defense in a bind. Most teams send a double when she’s operating out of the high post and she made the right plays. Washington will knock those shots down going forward, but the recognition and passes definitely caught my eye. The other thing in this section, the Mystics don’t have a “true” point guard and outside of the missed shots, it doesn’t seem as if that hurts them at all. This is definitely an area to keep an eye on going forward.

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CEO/Founder of My Mind on Sports For More Information on Wilson, check out his Bio in the "Team" Section Follow Wilson on Twitter: @Willietspeaks

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