Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky came to town, and the Mystics fall to 2-5 on the season after an 86-78 loss. They are still winless at home.
The Sky controlled this one from wire to wire, rushing out to an eight-point lead and essentially maintaining it for the whole game. With the 6'5" Delle Donne starting at small forward, the Sky's size and length seemed to overwhelm the Mystics at times. Passes along the perimeter were deflected, and the Sky would collapse their defense so aggressively after the Mystics' guards got into the paint that attempts to kick the ball out resulted in turnovers.
The Mystics defended Delle Donne as well as could reasonably be expected given what a matchup nightmare she is. Her primary defenders were the much smaller Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and the less mobile Emma Meesseman. The duo worked hard, however, making it difficult for Delle Donne to get to her spots on the floor and harassing her into 5-14 shooting.
Delle Donne still finished the night with 18 points thanks heading to the line a total of 8 times (four times in the fourth quarter). But making Delle Donne uncomfortable came at a cost: Jessica Breland found herself popping into empty space at the free throw line for jumpers, and seven-time All-Star Cappie Pondexter had no problem finding her rhythm early and often.
Though the Mystics made enough runs to keep pressure on the Sky throughout the game, they could never find consistency on either end of the floor and ultimately lost 86-78.
What is this team's (positive) identity?
At their best, Mike Thibault's Mystics teams have been star-less squads that perform better than the sum of their parts, using crisp and deliberate ball movement and disciplined defense to compete in games they have no business winning on paper.
The 2016 Mystics have yet to really live up to that standard. Many of us expected, or at least hoped, that this would be Meesseman's team going forward. Though the 22-year old forward has had some good games this year, she still has a tendency to disappear, especially when the Mystics are desperate for a bucket. Though improved this year, neither Bria Hartley and Tayler Hill have quite shown the willingness or ability to carry the team consistently.
What can the Mystics fall back on, when nothing else is working? Tonight, we saw the familiar show of veterans Ivory Latta and Kia Vaughn coming through with a poise in crunch time to keep the Sky from running away with the game in the third and early fourth quarters. Latta hit a few of her signature long threes, and Vaughn battled mercilessly inside for rebounds and putbacks. But to be a good team - or even just a playoff team - the Mystics will need a lot more than Latta's shooting and Vaughn's interior presence to be their bread and butter.
Bria Hartley disappeared
After a strong game against Phoenix, where she broke ankles (...ALBERT) and played 22 minutes as the team's starting point guard, Hartley played just 14 minutes (mostly in the first half) and took a single shot against the Sky. For most of the third and fourth quarter, Thibault had Latta run the point, flanked by defensive wings Natasha Cloud and Kahleah Copper.
Cloud and Copper are a risky pairing on offense since neither one is a proven outside shooter, but the move worked for awhile, and the Mystics shrank the Sky's lead. Thibault eventually brought Hill and Ruffin-Pratt back in to jumpstart the offense, but Hartley remained on the bench.