It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Washington Mystics got the job done thanks to strong defense and a veteran with timely scoring. Kara Lawson scored seven of the Mystics last nine points down the stretch to close the door on the New York Liberty in a tightly contested game, 67-62. For the second time in as many nights, shots didn’t fall and the Mystics proved they can win ugly. Both wins coming with two key starters absent in Kia Vaughn and Bria Hartley, at media day the theme was about taking the next step and becoming championship contenders. If the first two wins of the season are any indication, the Mystics are moving in the right direction after winning two close games while missing key pieces.
“We came in with the mindset that we’re a championship team and for a championship team, this is what we’re supposed to do” – Natasha Cloud on starting the season 2-0
The first half was tightly contested as neither team shot well enough to pull away from the other. The only difference was that the Mystics were getting wide open shots within their offense while the Liberty were struggling to get anyone open when running their sets. Their saving grace was the play of Tina Charles, she scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds. In post up situations she was often well defended, but she would follow her shot and keep working and end up with several put backs out of sheer effort.
Washington did a good job by making everything as difficult as possible for the Liberty’s offensive players, hardly did they get open shots. Their size and activity on the glass went a long way in creating offense, they would out rebound the Mystics 41-33. The Mystics would make up for that difference by ball pressure, they forced the Liberty into 17 turnovers.
The game changed in the third quarter, Ivory Latta (10 points) started it off with a highlight worthy drive. She had her defender at the top of the key, started with a right-to-left crossover before going into a hesitation that caused the defender to leave her feet. Once the defender was off balance, Latta hit her with another crossover, this time left-to-right before blowing by her and lofting a soft shot over the top of two shot blockers. That wasn’t the moment though, it happened when the Mystics put a heavily defensive line up on the floor.
Veteran Armitte Herrington was surrounded by a cast of youngsters including Natasha Cloud (7 points, 3 assists), Tayler Hill (8 points), Meeseeman (16 points, 9 rebounds), and Kayla Thorton. That group went into a close game and carved out a four point lead. They were flying around on the defensive end and putting the Liberty on their heels in transition. Cloud had one of the other highlight worthy plays of the night as she got fouled shooting a three pointer. She’s not particularly a shooter from distance as she’s shared with us on two occasions, as she prefers getting her baskets through slashing, driving or the mid-range jump shot. In this case, she took the three, hit it while getting hit in the eye. The rookie calmly walked up to the line and nailed the free throw.
Thorton got the crowd in it when she sprinted back on defense and held her ground as New York’s Carolyn Swords tried to go through her. It was a huge collision as Swords literally ran through Kayla. She got up a bit worse for wear, but she drew a foul and got possession back for her team. The big in this line up was Messeeman and she played up to the challenge as she pulled down rebound after rebound in traffic. Much more physical in that regard than last season.
The final period started with Washington clinging to a four point lead, Latta got an extended period of rest as that group in the third quarter didn’t come off the floor once they got on. Sloppy play on the offensive end by Washington led to consecutive turnovers, both of which the Liberty took advantage of. The Liberty went on to take the lead after Charles hit that Dirk-ish fade away.
Thorton’s undersized as a big, standing just 6’1. That didn’t stop her from extending two offensive possessions by tapping the ball out to teammates, she proved her worth on the roster tonight on both ends of the floor. As she stated after the game, her role on the team is to do ‘the little things’ for her teammates.
With six minutes left in the game, Charles scored to give New York a three point lead. Latta would answer for Washington by hitting a three pointer in the face of Candice Wiggins. The game then got interesting as there were several controversial calls made by the refs that resulted in New York going to the line to shoot free throws.
Stokes headed to the line with the Mystics up two, Latta was signaling to the crowd to make noise and they responded by disrupting Stoke’s concentration to where she missed both free throws. Meesseman came up big for Washington on several pick-and-pops as she drained the shots when given the opportunity.
With less than two minutes in the game and the Mystics clinging to a two point lead, Lawson took over. Her teammates continued to play strong defense and she hit several tough shots. The biggest being when she turned Sugar Rodgers around and hit a foul line jump shot to put the Mystics back up by two after a Charles basket.
The Liberty had a chance on the ensuing possession, but Rebecca Allen took an ill advised three point attempt. The shot wasn’t accurate and the rebound ended up on the floor, Meeseeman picked it up out of the pile and got fouled. She would hit both free throws, Washington would pull out the tough win.
Their team depth is extremely impressive, it’s only been two games but they have been able to absorb the loss of two starters very well. The development of their young bigs in Dolson and Meesseman are a huge reason as they have been able to hold down the fort on both ends of the floor. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is no longer the team’s only wing defender as she’s now joined by Hill, Cloud and Herrington. All of which played a huge role on the perimeter and on the glass.
The biggest factor in these first two games is that Washington has yet to shoot well, again it’s not from what the opposing teams are doing. As Lawson said after the game, they are taking ‘their shots’ and they’re ‘going to start falling’ eventually. It was an impressive win for the Mystics, it’s definitely not the same team that lost to the Fever in the playoffs.