The Washington Mystics did several things right in their matchup against the Minnesota Lynx last night, but experience and the lack there of was evident as one team executed down the stretch while the other faltered. Both teams were looking to end losing streaks, but Minnesota was the team that came out on top. The Lynx got huge games from three of their big four, Sylvia Fowles led the way with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Eight of which were offensive, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus chipped in with 19 and 16 points respectively. Washington was led by Natasha Cloud, her 17 points paced the group and her backcourt mate Kristi Toliver finished with 15 points. Elena Delle Donne did return and battled through her 26 minutes of playing time, but she wasn’t her typical self. Still, Washington had a chance, but that championship resolve helped Minnesota come out the victor.
The Mystics did get out to a good start, taking a 13-4 lead early on in front of a big crowd. The crowd was filled with the normal amount of WNBA fans, but was fused with a large contingent of Capitals fans who were in the building waiting for the watch party that followed the game. That led to an electric atmosphere, Coach Mike Thibault likening it to a playoff game.
Washington had a different starting lineup and it allowed them to do several things. Starting Cloud with Toliver in the backcourt took most of the ball handling duties away from Kristi, so she could hunt for shots. LaToya Sanders provides that group with good defense and the ability to contribute on the offensive end. Ariel Atkins at small forward gave them another outside shooter and another player that could put the ball on the floor, not to mention a plus defender.
Minnesota withstood that initial punch from Washington, then closed the quarter strong. Taking a two point lead after a long two from Augustus. The visiting Lynx continued their run to start the second period, Augustus was starting to heat up. Washington would respond, Cloud was a bit more assertive, but it felt as if she had to due to the way the Lynx were defending Delle Donne. They weren’t going to let her get comfortable. The Mystics were moving the ball well and knocking down shots, more importantly they started to get a few stops. They erased Minnesota’s eight point lead at one point, veteran Monique Currie provided a few buckets during that run. Washington took a one point lead, but the reigning champs would close the quarter strong. The Lynx held a 48-42 lead at the break, second chance points being an area in which they dominated. At that point in the game, Minnesota led Washington 13-0.
The Mystics made their move in the third quarter, winning the period 27-20. Atkins was fighting through foul trouble, but she scored six points during that run. The home team shot 62.5% from the floor, but they couldn’t shake free of the Lynx. The quarter closed with a stretch of end-to-end action, starting with a steal by Tierra Ruffin-Pratt that led to a transition layup that gave Washington a two point lead. Seimone Augustus responded with a three ball to put her team up by one. Currie drove the length of the court and drew a foul, she knocked down both free throws to give the Mystics a 69-68 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Minnesota started to settle in defensively, making things harder on the Mystics. Washington had shot at least 50% from the floor in the first three quarters. While neither team shot the ball well in the fourth, the Mystics were held to just 25% shooting. The flow they had on offense was altered by Minnesota’s activity and ball pressure on the defensive end. The second chance opportunities started to hurt Washington again, the Lynx got five points in the period. Fowles presence really opened things up for her teammates, she’s tough to box out and literally requires a double team.
The Mystics went down four, before fighting back to tie things up at 77 a piece. Maya Moore then started to make her presence felt on the defensive end, she stole the ball from Cloud at the top of the key and finished the play off with a layup in transition. A couple of possessions later, she nearly does it again, but this time is fouled by Cloud. Washington is down 79-77 after a bad offensive possession. They play solid defense, enough to the point that the Lynx kick the ball back out to DMV native Rebekkah Brunson with the shot clock winding down. Brunson catches the ball and calmly drills a three pointer, giving the Lynx an 82-77 lead with 1:33 left. Washington failed to generate solid offensive possessions, outside of a Tianna Hawkins triple that cut the deficit to four late. Down 84-80, the foul game had to be played and Moore hit all four of her free throws to close things out.
Despite the result, there were positives for Washington with the new starting lineup they employed. They did fall to the Lynx, but they only got eight points from Delle Donne. They have to get better on the boards, but the Cloud-Toliver backcourt can lead to good things. Up next, Washington gets a few days off before traveling to Connecticut to face the Sun on Wednesday.