Both the Mystics and Dream were missing their best players (Elena Delle Donne, day to day with a bone bruise, and Angel McCoughtry, out for the playoffs with torn knee ligaments). Both have “secondary” stars in Kristi Toliver and Tiffany Hayes. But the Dream have a clear identity as a defensive juggernaugt that works with or without McCoughtry, while it’s not clear who the Mystics are without Delle Donne.
Hayes was brilliant, leading all scorers with 23 points. She also had 11 rebounds. Both teams struggled from the field, but the Dream finally managed to break down the Mystics’ defense in the final minutes of the game, holding off a comeback and ultimately winning to take a 2-1 series lead.
Aerial Powers and Ariel Atkins were indispensable
Aerial Powers has struggled to find her footing in her brief tenure with the Mystics, but Thibault has continued to have faith in her. Today it paid off: Powers had a busy 22 minutes off the bench, with 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block. She raced up and down the court off misses and makes, and refused to let the moment intimidate her.
Powers had a few major missteps in the final minutes of the game—a missed three early in the shot clock, a turnover while dribbling through traffic on a more-or-less must-score possession—but in a game where the team struggled to make anything happen on offense, Powers was one of the few players consistently providing a solution.
Atkins, who for the whole season has played with the maturity of a veteran, was the Mystics second leading scoring with 17. She was a disruptive force on defense, and added 8 rebounds, and was the only Mystics player who could consistently hit a three.
Without Delle Donne, Thibault plays small
Tianna Hawkins started in place of Delle Donne, but as the game wore on Thibault elected for speed over size. LaToya Sanders and Hines-Allen (playing more minutes than she has since July 24) took turns playing center with Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Aeriel Powers, and Ariel Atkins taking turns as the nominal power forward.
The small lineup isn’t likely to a superweapon for the Mystics against the Dream, but it did help their half court offense get un-stuck at a few critical moments, and managed to poke holes in Atlanta’s normally suffocating transition defense. Thibault will have to continue to be creative with lineups as long as Delle Donne is out.
Rough night for Kristi Toliver
As long as Delle Donne is out, it’s hard to imagine a path to victory for the Mystics that doesn’t go through Kristi Toliver. But Toliver, who has struggled all series, could break free of Atlanta’s relentless defense. She scored just 7 points (3-15 from the field), and missed her first 7 three point shots. On the one hand, it’s difficult to watch Tolliver try to force herself out of a slump taking contested shots. On the other hand, it’s not like anything else was working all that well for the Mystics on offense.
Toliver was an effective playmaker, with a team high 6 assists, but the Mystics need her to make shots.
Next Game: The Mystics will try to force a Game 5 on Sunday.