Two of the league’s hotter teams met earlier today when the Washington Mystics hosted the Seattle Storm. The visiting Storm were riding a five game win streak and the Mystics were on a four game streak of their own, including a win by forfeit over the Las Vegas Aces. The Mystics didn’t waste anytime asserting their will in this one, a 31-18 first quarter set the tone for the 100-77 rout of Seattle. Elena Delle Donne led all scorers with 30 points, LaToya Sanders had 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Natasha Cloud chipped in with 14 points and eight assists. Seattle’s vaunted trio of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and Sue Bird scored a combined 32 points on nine-of-20 shooting.
Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders alluded to a meeting the team had a few weeks ago about their defense. Cloud called it a “come to Jesus” type of meeting, since then Washington has been on a win streak. They were able to disrupt Seattle early and it really allowed them to get out and run, both teams are very potent offensively and Seattle shooting 39.7% from the floor definitely hurt them. It was an up-tempo affair as both teams love to run, the Mystics did it a little better as they shot 57% from the floor and 46% from beyond the arc.
The Mystics were in control going into the half, but Seattle has shown the ability to get hot when trailing several times this season. Elena started to assert herself at the start of the second half, getting Washington going with back-to-back triples. Washington is able to grow the lead during this stretch, Sanders really making a living off the offensive glass (five offensive boards for the game). Seattle started to get a rhythm offensively, but they kept trading baskets with Washington. Without being able to generate stops, it made starting a rally quite difficult. The Mystics led 83-60 after the third period.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the visiting Storm started go make a run. The second unit went on a 11-0 run by getting stops, they forced a few Washington turnovers and Mercedes Russell scored inside to cap the run. Coach Thibault immediately called a timeout to get his team settled. He re-inserted the starting five and Washington was able to stop the bleeding, Delle Donne hit a couple of big shots to stabilize her team. The first was long two by way of a nice step-back jumpshot, the second was a cold blooded triple that pushed Washington’s lead back to 18.
Ariel Atkins made a nice up and under layup in the paint with 3:39 to go, that gave her 12 points on the night and that’s when Washington’s starters exited the game. The Mystics were able to close things out over the next three minutes, it was a good win for a team that’s really starting to find their rhythm. It’s also not a bad time for them to be on a roll, today’s win currently has Washington in third place in the league standings.
Defense: Washington is finally starting to put quality performances on that end of the floor together. That meeting that both Sanders and Cloud alluded to has clearly paid off. They were able to limit Seattle to one shot per trip for long stretches of the game despite giving up six offensive rebounds. Atkins and Cloud did a great job on Loyd and Bird early on, making it hard for them to get the ball where they liked. Sanders and Delle Donne did a good job of closing down on Stewart without fouling as well.
Shorter Rotation: Coach Thibault mentioned this during his post game comments, he’s shortened the rotation and it’s paid off. The starters are getting more minutes, their plus/minus numbers are near the top of the league as a unit. Washington has quality depth on it’s bench, he’s made it clear to them that their minutes will fluctuate game by game.
Cloud/Sanders: Thibault also mentioned them as being two of the most improved in the entire league. The biggest hole in Natasha’s game has been her shooting, she does everything else you can ask out of a point guard. For her career, Cloud has shot 32% from beyond the arc and this season that number is up to 42.9% from that range. That’s allowed Natasha to make teams pay for helping off her or simply giving her open shots, so that scouting report on her is going to have to change. Cloud hit 52% from deep in July and has shot 72% from beyond the arc this month. Sanders has always been a good contributor for the Mystics, but she like Cloud, has taken a step forward as well. Her points per game averages have gone up each month of this season, starting with four a game in May. In June that number went up to eight and in July she average 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. This month throughout two games, Sanders is averaging 17 points and five rebounds. Both play big roles on the defensive end, but Washington’s already potent offense hit another level once they started asserting themselves on that end of the floor.
Picking her spots: Elena Delle Donne has done a good job of adjusting her play a bit as her teammates are hitting their strides offensively. She’s definitely picking her spots in which to assert her will on the offensive end, Thibault talked about small changes they made offensively to get her more touches. Typically that sounds like it would result in more points, but it’s been the opposite in the regard that those touches are to create for her teammates. She finished the game with 30 points, but it happened in spurts, specifically when the team needed it. She’s done well moving the ball this season, even though it mostly results in hockey assists.
Poise: The Mystics have been in some tough situations over this stretch of wins. Most of which were on the road, they’ve held double-digit leads and have lost them. Instead of wilting, they’ve been able to stay poised and get the win. Things went bad late in Dallas before they were able to win courtesy of Toliver going off in the last two minutes. They lost a huge lead against the Mercury and faltered a bit late, but didn’t relinquish the lead to win in regulation. Today against Seattle, they built a big lead and responded accordingly whenever Seattle tried to make a run. It’s definitely a positive for this team and not bad to see it as the playoffs get closer