WASHINGTON—It took the Mystics some time to settle on a starting lineup this season, due in part to some injury issues, but over the past six games they’ve found a group that works and it’s hard to argue with the results. Since June 7th, the Mystics’ starters have been:
The Mystics have won three straight and gone 4-2 with this lineup. Coach Mike Thibault may switch between Cloud and Toliver at times when it comes to who initiates the offense, but nevertheless these five have gotten the job done, and it showed in their win on Tuesday against the Connecticut Sun.
They didn’t get off to a great start. Jasmine Thomas scored 10 points as the Sun jumped out to a 25-15 lead at the end of the first quarter. Connecticut controlled the paint early, outscoring them 12-2 in the first quarter and 18-8 in the first half. Despite the struggles, Washington was able to make adjustments and close to within three points at halftime.
In the second half, the Mystics’ starting lineup took showed their might and pulled away. Three of the Mystics’ starters hit 3-pointers in third quarter as they outscored Connecticut by 18. The lead dwindled back down to six in the fourth quarter, but Delle Donne, Atkins, and Sanders all responded with big shots to get the lead back up to double-digits and seal the victory.
Mystics coach Mike Thibault was quick to praise the team’s defensive effort after the win. “It’s amazing when you play really good defense what kind of things can happen,” he said. “Third quarter was as good a defensive quarter as we’ve probably played against them. Defense kind of led to our offense and we were able to get out and run in the third quarter because of it.”
The offense was excellent as well. Four of the Mystics’ starters scored in double figures: Delle Donne finished with 25 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two blocked shots. This is also her 40th 25-point game.
Toliver was relentless all game long. All of her attempts came in the paint, beyond the arc, or at the free throw line, where she earned nine attempts.
Mystics’ first-round draft pick Ariel Atkins finished with 13 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one blocked shot in the win. She’s caught on quickly and made a difference as a starter. Her quickness and adaptability makes her a scary force on both ends. Basically wherever the ball goes, she goes. Thibault acknowledged her contributions after the game.
“She’s a quick study...picks up things quickly,” he said. “Obviously shoots the ball pretty well, but I think her defense is continuing to get better. And as she learns the different players in the league, I think that’ll help her too.”
With all the attention teams have been devoting to stopping Delle Donne, Toliver, and Atkins, it’s easy to forget about LaToya Sanders.
She’s arguably been the biggest addition to the starting lineup this season. Although she’s mostly been seen as a defensive player during her career, she has developed an offensive flare in Washington this season. She’s taken advantage of the easy buckets teams are willing to give up to slow down the rest of the starters and she’s improved on finishing contested shots in the paint. On Tuesday, she went 8-of-12 from the field and finished with a season-high 18 points, as well as eight rebounds, four assists, and a block. More importantly, she felt good doing it.
“Every day I’m getting better...I’m pretty sure people can tell by as much as I run up and down the court and stuff like that, but I feel good,” she said. “It’s a good feeling especially with me being older in my basketball career, you just can’t take things for granted, so I’m glad to be back out on the court.”
If the Mystics can keep finding success with this lineup, it’s going to be easier for everyone to feel good out on the floor moving forward.