Diana Taurasi’s words about the Mystics rang true just 48 hours later, the young team was able to bounce back from a tough loss the Phoenix by taking down the reigning champs. Washington learned their lesson, they did not get off to a slow start, nor was it just a good start. The Mystics jumped on the visiting Minnesota Lynx early on and never let their foot off the pedal, earning an 87-63 win in front of a big home crowd.
The start was amazing, it all started on the defensive end. The perimeter trio of Tayler Hill, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, and Natasha Cloud made life extremely tough for three of the active players named to the WNBA 20 at 20 list. To shed some light on just how great a defensive performance it was, the Mystics held Seimone Agustus scoreless for the first time in her excellent career. Lindsay Whalen also did not register a point in this contest, while Maya Moore had five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Coach Thibault made a subtle change that ignited the defensive charge, he assigned Hill to Whalen, Cloud to Augustus, and TRP to Moore. At 6’0, Cloud is the tallest of the three and their combined length allowed them to have success when Minnesota called for screens to try and create cross-matches.
Emma Meeseeman has taken a huge step forward this season. After starting the year a little slow, she’s gotten better each and every game it seems. She is no longer passive on the offensive end of the floor, she was hunting for shots and teammates were finding her in the first quarter. She outscored the Lynx 16-13 and did not miss a shot, connecting on all seven of her attempts. With Emma (20 points) rolling, it opened things up for Tayler (17 points) and Minnesota could never recover.
It felt as if everyone in the building anticipated that vaunted championship run in response from the Lynx, but it never came and credit the Mystics for that. When the second unit came in, they were able to not only trade baskets, but extend the lead as well. There were no lead changes or ties in this one, Washington’s biggest lead was 26.
Tianna Hawkins and Bria Hartley played well of the bench. Hawkins has really worked on her outside touch and she hit three triples in this one, her ability to bang on the block and stretch the floor is a luxury for Washington. Hartley struggled to find her stroke from deep, but got to the basket with ease. A couple of time she got the crowd in it displaying her nice handle in breaking down her defender. The Mystics move to 3-1 on this home stand and have one game left on Wednesday.
Emma. Her first quarter was amazing, had 16 points to lead Washington to a 20 point first quarter lead. Minnesota’s bigs literally had no answer for her, whether it was in the post or on the perimeter. She was just too quick, too fast, and too skilled to be stopped. It was great watching a young player come into her own, having it happen against arguably the best team in the league doesn’t hurt either.
Tayler. She gets a lot of love for her diverse offensive game, maybe it’s time to show her some love for the defensive end of the floor. I haven’t seen Lindsay Whalen that flustered much, Whalen has made a living by keeping her dribble a live, probing defenses and finding teammates. Hill had her picking up her dribble early, which really knocked Minnesota’s offense out of sync. Tayler had four steals in this contest and several other deflections, with her on the point guard she set the tone defensively. She also scored 17 points and had 5 assists, as DT said after last game, she dynamic
Natasha. It’s not often the point guard is asked to defend two-guards or shooting guards, but Cloud’s size and athleticism allows her to switch without cause for concern. The 2nd year guard is a big part of the reason that Washington had just nine turnovers, she didn’t turn it over once did a great job of moving the ball. Her offensive game has come on recently although she didn’t shoot it great against the Lynx, but she did take shots and when she’s aggressive it affects opponents since most “play her for the pass”. She and Hill have really gelled together as this season has went on, they held a 25-0 edge over Minnesota’s starting backcourt.
TRP. Not much to say about Washington’s best perimeter defender, night after night she’s tasked with hounding the opposing team’s best perimeter threat. Tierra did mention after the game that it’s a bit different now with Tayler and Natasha flanking her. She knows that they “have her back” and that was the case when the Lynx tried to get those cross-matches. There was a sequence in this game that summed her contributions and impact up perfectly, a Lynx guard attempted an entry pass into the post and Ruffin-Pratt caught it virtually out of the guard’s hands and raced down the other end of the floor and finished the layup in transition. Her willingness to compete is infectious and she played a large role in one of the league’s best players having a bad night.
Mental Toughness. Washington could have went into the tank after dropping that game to Phoenix, could have fell two games under .500 by not showing up in the game with Minnesota. Instead, they corrected their mistakes from the first half against the Mercury and got off to a great start. I was most impressed that they didn’t wilt at any time, didn’t allow Minnesota to get back into the game. Definitely a sign of a young team growing up.