The Washington Mystics hadn’t played a game without Elena Delle Donne in months, with her absence it just evened things out a bit as the Dream have been without their Olympian in Angel McCoughtry since August 7th. With the series tied at one a piece and neither team shooting well, someone was going to have to step up and lead their team to victory. Atlanta’s Tiffany “Tip” Hayes saw and seized the opportunity as she scored 23 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in the Dream’s 81-76 win. LaToya Sanders summed up the night in the post game media session perfectly, her team “played hard, but not smart” at all times and it cost them.
As expected anytime a player of Delle Donne or McCoughtry is absent, there’s a huge gap on both ends that needs to be filled. The Mystics elected to go small with several of their lineups for much of the game, playing four guards or wings with one post player. The reason being that it would give them a bit more space on the offensive end to drive and kick. Obviously they couldn’t run the same actions they would run with EDD on the floor. The problem was on the other end of the floor as the chemistry wasn’t quite right and several miscommunications on the defensive end occurred.
One of the players that took advantage of the small ball lineups was Aerial Powers, thrust into the power forward role she used her versatility and athleticism to create shots for herself and put pressure on the Dream’s defense. Her season high 18 points came at a great time as Washington really needed it. Another player that impacted the game mightily for the Mystics was Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, it didn’t show in the box score in terms of points, but she was on the floor everytime they made a run.
Atlanta, like Washington didn’t shoot the ball particularly well on the night either. What they did was take care of the ball better and simply execute in pivotal moments. The Dream held a three point lead to start the second half, at one point in the third quarter their lead was pushed to 10. Washington went on a 12-1 run, mostly due to Powers having a big quarter. Still, the Dream didn’t relinquish control of the game or the lead as Hayes and Sykes (17 points) answered Washington runs with timely baskets.
Washington’s starting backcourt had one of their worst night’s collectively, Kristi Toliver and Natasha Cloud shot a combined 4-for-22 from the field. They also were responsible for five of the team’s 13 turnovers. That’s an area that played a big role in Washington not being able to win this game. They turned the ball over far too often and at times just made very poor decisions on the offensive end, the other factor was they simply just missed shots at times. Despite going small, they held their own on the glass. Turnovers was the biggest key in this one, the Mystics had 13 and Atlanta had nine.
It was a two possession game down the stretch and the Mystics couldn’t execute when needed. On the Atlanta side of things, Hayes and Sykes did a masterful job of running the screen/roll. Either Breeland (9 points) or Williams (14 points) would set the screen and roll to the rim. The guards of Atlanta did a great job of reading the defense and they either hit the rolling big or passed the ball to the short corner for the open triple. The Dream put the ball in Tip’s hands and let her attack, she didn’t make many if any bad decisions down the stretch. One of the reasons this simple action was so difficult for Washington to defend is because they were playing those super small lineups, Powers hadn’t played a minute at the four (power forward) this season and she didn’t know the coverages from that position.
It was a quality win for the Dream and a reminder that Hayes is continuing to ascend as she finds her rightful place in this league. There’s a reason they were the second seed and their ability to grind out close games definitely helped them get through this one. As for the Mystics, despite horrendous shooting and playing without your best player, it was a five point loss. Heading into Game 4 on Sunday, all eyes will be on whether Delle Donne can return and if the Dream can finish this series on the road.