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Mystics make it six in a row, Atkins has 26 in win over Dallas

The Washington Mystics and Dallas Wings were on two different types of streaks coming into today’s game. Washington had five game win streak while Dallas was on a seven game slide. Both of those streaks continued by the end of this one, Washington is now 20-11 on the year after a 93-80 win this afternoon. The Mystics were led by rookie Ariel Atkins with a game-high 26 points, 23 from Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver’s 17. The Wings were led by Skylar Diggins-Smith’s 17 points, 15 from Azura Stevens, and Kayla Thorton’s 14 points.

Toliver addressed the crowd before the game, video courtesy of Amber Dodd of Hoopsfeed.

Washington got out to a hot start, their defense fueling the way. The Wings stayed in courtesy of 13 first quarter points from their rookie in Stevens.  She took advantage of pick and pop situations, Washington’s bigs didn’t get out to contest in time and she got on a roll. Toliver started hot for Washington with nine of her own, but the Wings stepped it up defensively on their run to close the quarter. Dallas had taken control of the game with that run it seemed, ending the quarter tied at 20.

Aerial Powers came in the game and once again immediately made an impact. She stole a couple of inbound passes and put pressure on the her former team by attacking the basket. That seemed to spark the Mystics and they took off, they regained their footing on defense. That resulted in five Dallas turnovers. Washington was getting to the line and knocking down the three ball. Delle Donne has struggled offensively against the Wings this season, on two occasions she finished the game without reaching double figures in scoring. That trend didn’t continue as she scored 13 points in the period on five-of-six shooting from the floor. She was definitely feeling it, all three of her triples were of the walk up variety. Powers scored all eight of her points in this quarter, six of which came from the line. The Mystics held a 51-37 lead at the half, they were shooting a blistering 54% from beyond the arc while holding the Wings to 32% shooting from the floor.

The Wings didn’t go down without a fight, they won the third quarter 26-24. Natasha Cloud found a rolling LaToya Sanders on a screen/roll for two to push the lead to 18. Dallas called a timeout with 5:27 left in the period, at the moment they were down by 22. From that point on, it was all Dallas. Theresa Plaisance had yet to score in the game, in that stretch to close the quarter she scored all 11 of her points. The sharp shooter knocked down three triples, Diggins-Smith also got going. She scored eight points in the Wings rally that cut the 22 point deficit to just 12 heading into the fourth quarter.

Atkins continued to show why she’s such a special rookie. After scoring 12 points in the first half, she poured in 14 in the third quarter when her team was reeling a bit. She provided timely baskets time and time again, that said she took a scary fall in the fourth quarter. She drove the lane and got hammered by Cayla George. At that time, Dallas had cut the lead to seven. Ariel hit the floor hard and stayed down for several minutes before being helped up and walking gingerly off the floor.

The Mystics had to rely on their defense from that point on, it’s been a point of emphasis all season. It’s also the sole barometer for their results night to night. When they compete hard on that end of the floor, they are one of the better teams in the league. When they don’t, they struggle to be who they are. They’ve seemed to accept that defense is a key part of their identity and a requirement going forward. As Natasha Cloud has shared recently, that “come to Jesus” meeting they had about that end of the floor has fueled this winning streak.

Three minutes left, it was an eight point game. The Mystics showed their improvement on that end and a glimpse of who they can possibly be in the postseason. They played outstanding defense on each and every possession down the stretch, the exceptions being when they fouled and a few of those were questionable.

Krist would hit a huge triple with 1:31 left, the proverbial dagger that ended hopes of winning for the Wings. Washington continues to roll and defense has been a huge part of it. They will officially embark on the last week of the regular season by hitting the road before returning to host the Sparks on Friday.

 

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