It has certainly been a bumpy road in the wubble. A 3-0 start was followed by a deflating seven-game losing streak, but one should never count out this Mystics team. Facing a Chennedy Carter-less, two-win Atlanta team, tonight’s game was the perfect opportunity to get back on track; Washington did not disappoint.
With plenty of roster moves made in recent days, the starting five looked a little different tonight, with Stella Johnson getting the nod. The Mystics were scrappy early and displayed an energy that has been intermittent in recent games. Myisha Hines-Allen, who got back to her scoring ways (23 points, four rebounds on 71-percent shooting from the field), had a one-handed put-back, after which her and Emma Meesseman were rightfully hyped up.
Despite a rough first quarter from three (20-percent from behind the arc), the Mystics only trailed by two (24-22). In the second, Washington started dictating tempo and began hitting more shots. At halftime, the Mystics were up 45-39, thanks in part to their improved shooting percentages (47-percent from the field and 32-percent from three).
While the second half was mostly a back-and-forth affair (due to standout performances from Atlanta’s Betnijah Laney (35 points) and Courtney Williams (30 points), Washington edged out Atlanta, earning win number four. Recently, Mike Thibault swapped his coaching hat for his general manager one, waiving Essence Carson and Shey Peddy, adding Jacki Gemelos, Johnson and Sug Sutton.
For a team missing most of its starting rotation, Thibault has emphasized that his focus this season is on development, something that is unlikely to happen with veterans such as Carson and Peddy. Bringing in Johnson and Sutton allows the team to evaluate their skill sets to see if they can contribute in 2021; both look like they’ll be able to.
Sutton scored her first professional basket tonight and was two for two from the line. A third round pick out of Texas, Sutton will look to continue to grow her game.
The real standout of tonight’s game, however, was Johnson. The rookie guard from Rider University — the only university to give her an offer — dropped an eye-popping 25 points, three assists, three rebounds, and was 62-percent from the field and 66-percent from three. That’s not a typo. She buried six of nine attempts from downtown. Johnson looks to be an excellent find by Thibault and his staff.
Let’s take a moment to look at the Mystics’ averages going into this game. The defending champions were averaging 78.2 points per game (tonight they had 75 after three), 33.6 rebounds (7.8 of which were offensive broads), 14.5 turnovers, while shooting 41.8-percent, 33.3-percent and 80.6-percent from the field, from three and from the free throw line, respectively.
Here are the teams’ statistics from tonight: 98 points, 28 rebounds (nine of which were on the offensive end), 11 turnovers, shooting 50-percent from the field, 35.3-percent from three and 80-percent from the foul line. In most statistical categories, the Mystics either improved or were close to their season average. This was the perfect game to reestablish a collective identity.
One of the reasons the Mystics struggled in recent games was the lack of bench depth provided. Tonight, Tianna Hawkins had nine points, two steals and two rebounds. Both Alaina Coates and Gemelos had quiet scoring nights, but each notched two rebounds.
The contributions off the bench certainly helped, but the real improvement lay with the starters. In addition to huge nights by Hines-Allen and Johnson, Ariel Atkins put up 13 points, five assists, two steals and was 40-percent from the field. Starting point guard Leilani Mitchell had 12 points, six assists and shot 50-percent from the field, with Meesseman providing a double-double — 12 points, 10 assists, six rebounds.
One of the few areas from tonight’s game the Mystics must improve upon is offensive rebounding. Against Atlanta, the team gave up 13 offensive boards, many of which led to second chance points. For Mike Thibault and his team though, tonight’s win was a step in the right direction.
The Mystics’ next game is on Friday August 21 at 8 p.m. ET against the Dallas Wings and will be televised on NBC Sports Washington.