Washington’s Head Coach Mike Thibault was honored during a pregame tribute to celebrate his 300th win a few games ago. Chicago was in town looking to avenge their last outing here in D.C. when they were throttled by the Mystics. This game started a little slow, but the Mystics took control of it by closing the second quarter with a big run. It may have been the best game of the season for Ariel Atkins; she finished with 25 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. Five of those seven rebounds were on the offensive end, Washington needed everyone of those second chance opportunities. Elena Delle Donne also had 25 points and three steals against her former team. Leading Chicago was Allie Quigley and Gabby Williams, with 17 and 12 points respectively. There were several long stretches of sloppy play in this game, but in the end the Mystics walked away with an 88-72 win.
Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley had arguably their worst games of the season at the same time. The duo started out strong in the first quarter, scoring a combined 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first quarter. The Sky shot well in the first, while the Mystics struggled. Washington’s offensive issues were of their own, they had several unforced turnovers and flat out missed open shots. Despite the slow start, the game was tied at 25 after one quarter.
Sloppy. That’s the best way to describe the play from both teams in the second quarter, they went nearly five minutes without a basket being scored. Chicago broke the deadlock on a basket by Quigley. Then the Mystics got going, it really started with a defensive stop by Natasha Cloud. Her defense on the baseline forced a shot clock violation. Washington’s defense is what fueled that 20-6 run to close the half ,they would take a 45-33 lead into the break. Chicago shot 58.8% in the first quarter, that number dropped to 20% in the second period.
The Mystics pushed the lead to as many as 22 in the third period. Chicago didn’t go away, it was their turn to settle in on the defensive end. Washington’s unforced turnovers certainly didn’t help, the offense became stagnant and the Sky were able to get out in transition and get easy baskets. Former Mystics center Stefanie Dolson had a big quarter, where she scored eight of her 12 points. The Sky would cut the deficit to eight when Gabby Williams hit a layup off a great no-look pass by Diamond DeShields. Kristi Toliver would hit a big three pointer to give the Mystics a little bit of a cushion before the quarter ended.
A bad pass from the Mystics led to another transition score for DeShields just a couple minutes into the fourth. A quick five-0 spurt from Atkins helped Washington take a 16 point lead. It was the rookie’s fourth three point make of the night, she followed that up with a nice display of athleticism in transition. DeSheilds got back in transition to try and block Atkins layup attempt, Ariel hung in the air long enough to dip under the swat attempt and finish. The crowd really enjoyed that quick sequence from Washington’s rookie. From there, the teams traded baskets. The Sky never got the deficit under 12 for the remaining four minutes of the game.
Washington has a tough stretch ahead in which they play seven of their next eight games on the road. The win over Chicago wasn’t one of their better games, but they were able to secure a victory. They can’t expect to have success on this road heavy stretch of the season by turning the ball over at this rate or choosing to play defense periodically. At this moment Washington is 13-8 on the year, good enough for third place in the league standings. The Mystics remain in first place in the East, maintaining their 1.5 game lead over the now streaking Atlanta Dream.
Mystics Defense. Midway through the second quarter, Washington locked in on that end of the floor and they took off. It’s been something we’ve talked about all year in regards to how well they play when that end is taken care of. They held Chicago to just 20% shooting and forced six turnovers. When Washington plays hard on that end of the floor, they’re one of the best teams in the league. The issue is they haven’t done it consistently over the course of a full game or a stretch of games.
Turnovers. Washington had far too many unforced turnovers in this game. At times the ball wouldn’t move and the offense got stagnant, leading to poor possessions. Better decisions have to be made by all the players when they have the ball, late passes or reads rarely workout. They have to start avoiding the self inflicting wounds.
Atkins. She’s special and it’s very easy to see. Talking with her after the game she said “this team allows me to be Ariel.” Delle Donne cited her “steadiness” as what’s most impressive about Atkins. She just plays hard, on every possession for every minute she’s on the court. Her rebounding was huge for the Mystics, the extra possession typically led to better shots. A pest defensively and she even brought the ball up a bit last night, showing that she can be a secondary ball handler for Washington if needed. The best part is she’s still figuring everything out, Washington’s definitely hit on this year’s draft.
3-Ball. Washington didn’t shoot the ball very well from inside the arc last night, but they made up for it by knocking down 11 of their 23 attempts from deep. Atkins led the way with four makes, followed by Toliver with three. Delle Donne and Cloud both hit two a piece. With teams keying in on Delle Donne and Toliver, Atkins knocking down catch-and-shoot opportunities makes teams pay for it. Cloud has come alive over the past few games with her shooting overall, but specifically from beyond the arc. Teams usually have her defender help off her, so she typically gets quality looks.