The Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics met for the second time this season as the respective #1 and #2 teams in the standings. The Mystics looked to bounce back at home after a rough loss in Phoenix on Wednesday and recover from a budding losing streak, while the Aces looked to extend their win streak to five.
Washington was missing former MVP Elena Delle Donne, who is still in the WNBA’s concussion protocol. But Emma Meesseman was back with the team after missing over a month to fulfill obligations with the Belgian national team.
The Mystics got off to a strong start with stifling defense and pass-happy offense, rushing out to a 10-2 lead. They controlled the game for most of the first quarter, but eventually tough defense morphed into a litany of fouls, and on the other end the shots stopped falling, exemplified by the typically efficient Tianna Hawkins shooting 0-7 in the first half. The Mystics went back to the locker room with their lead cut down to 1. Kayla McBride gave the Aces their first lead of the game midway through the third quarter.
The game stayed close through the end, with the teams trading leads. While the Mystics’ defense did as well as one could hope against a team with as much firepower as the Aces, they struggled to score and struggled to rebound, and even as the score stayed within a possession or two Las Vegas looked more and more like the team in control. The Aces ultimately won 85-81 after a missed Hail Mary three from Toliver and two free throws from Kelsey Plum to ice the game. Las Vegas was paced by All Star A’Ja Wilson and backup guard Sydney Colson with 17 points apiece. The Mystics had incredibly balanced scoring from their starting lineup, lead by Natasha Cloud with 18 points and Meesseman and Kristi Toliver with 15 each.
Washington now falls to #3 in the standings, 1.5 games back from Las Vegas.
- The offense got...sticky, and that’s a problem: If you thought the squad you saw whipping the ball around the floor in the first quarter was a different team than the one that played the final 15 minutes, I wouldn’t blame you. The Mystics’ movement on and off the ball dried up as the game progressed, allowing Vegas to climb back from their early deficit. After scoring 28 points in the first quarter, Washington scored 16, 17 and 20 in the last three. While the Mystics’ win streaks this season have been been characterized by stifling defense, that always felt like the team was punching above its weight. For sustained success, the Mystics need to move the ball and they need to score, because they do not have the personnel to rely on shutting down the best teams in the WNBA.
- The Mystics struggled the most when the substitutions started: The Mystics problems came primarily from their bench tonight, which collectively scored just 12 points on 2-15 shootig. But there are reasons to be hopeful. First, Elena Delle Donne’s absence meant both Meesseman and Sanders started; when Delle Donne returns Meesseman will likely return to the bench. I expect one of them on the floor at almost all times when they’re both available to play. Second, Tianna Hawkins had an uncharacteristic 0-8 performance with 4 personal fouls. Hawkins missed shots right at the rim she normally makes, and wide open threes, an outlier performance for her.
- A strong night for the Mystics’ “Film Room All Stars”: Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Tolliver may be the highest-profile players on the roster, but Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders are the glue that holds the team together. The two lead the team in minutes played, and for good reason. Cloud was active and energetic on offense, scoring from all over the floor and seemingly hitting a shot every time the Aces looked to build a lead. Natasha Cloud is a leader on the court, and tonight lead the team in scoring as well with 18.
Sanders can always be counted on for a good defensive performance, but tonight she was spectacular. She was relentless hounding superstar center Liz Cambage, who needed 13 shots to score 13 points. On offense, Saunders is a spectacular finisher, smart passer, and efficient finisher. She lead the team in rebounds (10), and blocks (2), while chipping in 2 steals, 4 assists and 11 points.
- Bonus: A malfunctioning clock leads to a delayed start and pre-game dance party.