Playing on the second day of a back-to-back, the Washington Mystics showed their champions mentality in today’s win against the Atlanta Dream. After the Dallas Wings — who were also fighting for the eight seed — lost on Friday night to the Chicago Sky, the Mystics had to win their remaining two games to qualify for the playoffs. In other words, they controlled their own destiny.
It took a convincing win over the New York Liberty last night and a chess match of a game today, but the 2019 WNBA champions are back in the postseason to defend their title.
WE’RE IN!!!!!!!!#TogetherDC #ApplyPressure pic.twitter.com/98rqoSc2qr— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 13, 2020
A 3–0 start had some predicting a top-three finish for the Mystics, but a torrid stretch saw the team drop seven in a row and go 1–12 in 13 games. Despite the most challenging season of WNBA basketball, the Mystics did what champions do, they found a way.
Upon the opening tipoff, and the ensuing first possession of every quarter, the Mystics and Dream took a delay of game violation to bring awareness to social justice issues in the United States. The shot clock violation was also meant to bring awareness to the importance of voter registration and perniciousness of voter suppression.
In the first quarter, it became clear that Atlanta’s goal was to slow down Myisha Hines-Allen — one of the front runners for most improved player. Coincidentally, Atlanta lined up with the player in direct competition with Hines-Allen — Betnijah Laney (27 points, six rebounds on 68.8-percent shooting from the field).
Atlanta also received 26 points from rookie guard Chennedy Carter and 11 rebounds from guard Courtney Williams.
While Hines-Allen failed to score in the first, Tianna Hawkins (seven points, three rebounds) showed no rust after missing the previous two games. A strong finish — capped by an Alaina Coates two at the buzzer and a 16–4 run — saw the Mystics up 27–22 after one.
At the start of the second quarter, Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault decided to leave Hines-Allen on the bench. Perhaps he was saving her for later in the game…
An impressive 13–0 Atlanta run to start the second took away the Mystics’ lead. During the lopsided run, Atlanta hit their shots and the Mystics went cold; it took almost four full minutes for Washington to get points on the board.
With Atlanta focusing on Hines-Allen, it took 16 and a half minutes for the third-year forward to score in the contest.
As Hines-Allen was limited in the second, the Mystics got scoring from all over. Ariel Atkins, Kiara Leslie (11 points), Meesseman and Sug Sutton (two points) all contributed offensively for the Mystics.
A late Atkins two sent the Mystics up 44–43 at the half despite trailing for most of the quarter. And while she only had four points, Hines-Allen helped out where she could, putting up seven rebounds and adding one assist.
With Atlanta taking away Hines-Allen, the question became: Who was going to step up? The answer: Ariel Atkins and Emma Meesseman.
Atkins, who saw her three-ball drop all night finished with a team-high 26 points and was 40-percent shooting from three. Meesseman, despite heavy coverage, scored 14 and had seven assists.
Late in the third, the Mystics forced a shot clock violation, giving the team an added boost. After a third quarter in which Washington did not turn the ball over once, the Mystics led 64–59.
Fatigue started to show early in the fourth, when Atlanta grabbed several offensive boards.
Playing in back-to-back games is always a challenge, but for a player like Atkins, she always manages to rise. The lone starter from last year’s championship team, Atkins paced the attack for the Mystics. She had five assists and was 100-percent from the free throw line (six attempts). She nailed four late free throws to ice the game and send her team to the postseason.
Step on the gas Ariel!!! pic.twitter.com/Y3iGShgvgc— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 13, 2020
Oh, and back to Thibault saving Hines-Allen. In a game where she was the target of a variety of different defensive schemes, Hines-Allen showed why she is one of the top players in the league.
Through three quarter she had six points. What she lacked in offense she made up for in rebounds and assists. Atlanta quickly learned, though, that you can only slow down Hines-Allen, there’s no stopping her. She exploded for 10 points in the fourth and finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Not bad for a player who spent most of the game in double coverage.
In a true team effort that saw scoring come from all corners of the court, Leilani Mitchell (seven points and seven assists) also hit several clutch threes.
By qualifying for the eight-team postseason format — which will be single elimination in the first two rounds — the Mystics could make life very difficult for some of the league’s higher-seeded teams.
The Mystics’ playoff game is on Tuesday September 15 at 9 p.m. ET against the Phoenix Mercury and will be televised on ESPN2.