PHOTO CREDIT: CARDELL DUDLEY/FINEST MAGAZINE LLC
The Washington Mystics began played the first part of a home and home with the Chicago Sky this evening. Defense has been an issue for the Mystics all season long, when they’re competing at a high level on that end, they’re one of the better teams in the league. In their losses, it’s because there’s inconsistent or flat out poor effort and execution on that end of the floor. That wouldn’t be a problem tonight though, Washington put together their most complete game from a defensive stand point of the season. They forced 17 turnovers and held the Sky to just 29% shooting from the floor, Washington’s guards held Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot to combined 4-of-20 from the floor. That played a big role in Washington getting the 88-60 win at home.
Things started slow in the first period, there was a bit of sloppy play from both teams. Still, five turnovers by the Sky helped Washington build a three point lead by the end of the quarter.
The Mystics made their move midway through the second period, they got a string of stops and found their groove offensively. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored seven points in the period and Washington held a 46-32 lead at the half. Things didn’t get better for Chicago in the second half as the Mystics started the third quarter with a run that pushed the lead to 21.
Washington held on for the win, but Cheyenne Parker and former Mystics wing Kahleah Copper led Chicago with 18 and 13 points respectively off the bench. The Mystics were led by Kristi Toliver (19 points, 8 assists), the former Terp did a great job moving without the ball and making good decisions as the primary ball handler. Elena Delle Donne had 14 points and seven rebounds.
The crowd went crazy late in the fourth quarter when Tayler Hill entered the game. She tore her ACL last season and this was the first game action she’s gotten this season. She scored six points in eight minutes, both of which were three pointers. It was good to see her back and the crowd as well as her teammates really enjoyed her two made baskets. It’s a great problem for Washington as they’re closer to having all 12 players on their roster fully healthy for the first time in a couple of seasons.
Defense. Washington has the type of roster, especially on the perimeter to cause issues for opposing teams. Tonight was one of those examples of how good they can be when they make defense their calling card. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Natasha Cloud, Monique Currie, and Ariel Atkins are terrors defensively. Their blend of size, length, and athleticism was on full display. LaToya Sanders is really good at wrecking opposing team’s screen/rolls. Teams typically try and isolate Toliver and Delle Donne to attack them on the defensive end, both held up well and Chicago couldn’t get anything going. It’s about consistency from the team on that end of the floor going forward.
Backcourt chemistry. For the last few games, we’ve seen the Toliver-Cloud pairing as the starting backcourt. They complement each other well, tonight Toliver was in a flow offensively. Still, she was able to get eight assists. Natasha only scored two points, but she was able to push the pace and get others involved. When she’s putting pressure on the defense off the bounce, it allows Kristi to move without the ball and given her lightning quick release, it’s harder for the defense to load up on her. It’s something to keep an eye on going forward as the duo grows.
Ball movement. The Mystics had 26 assists tonight, but they left quite a few on the court. The ball was moving very well and Washington scored 88 points, but they only shot 27% from beyond the arc. There were several good looks that didn’t fall, but it’s encouraging that nine players had at least one assist.
Consistency. That’s what Washington is looking for, they have an opportunity to move up the standings over the next stretch of games. Four of the five are at home, it’s about being consistent on the defensive end. They’ll always be in games with the firepower they have, but it’s about if they can routinely get stops. This was definitely the first game all year in which the defensive didn’t have reoccurring lapses or just plain dropped off in terms of effort.