The last time these two teams met, it took a buzzer beater from Elena Delle Donne to decide it. That wouldn’t be the case last night as Washington used a big fourth quarter, including a 15-5 run to beat New York 86-67. Delle Donne started slow, but she scored 11 points in the final period as the Mystics outscored the Liberty 22-8. Tina Charles led all scorers with 26 points and 12 rebounds, allowing her to move into 16th place on the New York Liberty Scoring List. She passed former UConn star and Liberty forward Swin Cash. Natasha Cloud had 10 points and 10 assists, missing a triple-double by three rebounds. The return of rookie Ariel Atkins certainly helped Washington as well, the Mystics move to 11-6 with the win.
The Mystics started the fourth quarter with a quick burst, pushing their five point lead to 12 with 7:40 left in the game. Washington certainly didn’t help themselves by committing silly fouls, with 4:54 left in the game they picked up their fifth team foul. That put the Liberty in the bonus, but they couldn’t take advantage of it. Washington’s defense hit another level in the fourth quarter and New York couldn’t get the deficit lower than eight. Tianna Hawkins scored six of her nine points in the period, including a highlight finish through contact with 2:28 left in the game. The Mystics are at their best when they’re getting stops, it allows them to get out and run. They suffocated the New York offense, holding them to just 9.1%(1-of-11) shooting from the floor.
Washington and New York traded baskets for much of the first half, similar to that first meeting. Tina Charles led the way with 14 points, while the Mystics had a balanced effort. Atkins return to the starting lineup gave them some of that energy they were missing, she also picked up where she left off by impacting the floor on both ends. Cloud had a good first half as well, 10 points and four assists. Coach Thibault seemed to be experimenting with a second unit lineup in the second quarter (Hawkins, Hill, Hines-Allen, Walker-Kimbrough, and Ruffin-Pratt). It’ll be interesting to see if that was a one time thing or something that may become a trend going forward.
The Mystics only turned the ball over four times in the half, but they never truly seemed to find their flow offensively. The Liberty were experiencing similar issues as well, more often than not it was Tina Charles cleaning up on the glass or bailing out a bad possession with a big shot. Still, New York shot 45.7% from the floor and 50% from deep. Washington shot 43% from the floor and 41% from beyond the arc.
Washington jumped out to a six point lead to start the third quarter, but New York refused to let the deficit grow more. Charles continued her dominant play inside, scoring eight points in the period. LaToya Sanders scored eight of her 14 points in the period as well. Sanders did a great job of making the Liberty pay for helping off of her, she knocked down midrange jumpers on a consistent basis. The Mystics led by just five heading into the fourth quarter.
LaToya Sanders being assertive on offense changes how teams can defend the Mystics. The Liberty got burned time and time again by her activity on the offensive end. She scored 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds.
Growing up before our eyes, is Ariel Atkins. She missed the last few games due to being in concussion protocol. She scored nine points, but it was about the little things. Atkins does so much on the defensive end, on post touches she did a good job of digging down to help her bigs. She’s showing a bit more confidence when handling the ball, breaking down her defender to create for others. Her being able to do that gives the Mystics another ball handler in the starting five along with Cloud and that allows Toliver to move off the ball even more.
Defense. It’s been something that’s been talked about on the Focus TV quite often, when Washington is clicking on that end of the floor they can compete with anyone in the league. They turned New York over 15 times and held them to 37% shooting from the floor, the Liberty shot 45% in the first half. The Mystics held them to just 26% from the floor and 10% from beyond the arc in the second half. They have the ability to clamp down on opponents, the challenge is keeping that level of intensity up for the entire 40 minutes.
Coming into her own. Natasha Cloud was three rebounds shy of a triple-double, more impressive was the efficient manner in which she shot the ball and the fact that she didn’t turn the ball over. Cloud was 3-of-5 from the floor and knocked down 2-of-3 attempts from deep. Coach Thibault commented on her growth after the game and she even said that the game has slowed down for her.