It all comes down to this for the Washington Mystics. After losing Game 1 against the New York Liberty 90-75, they must win Game 2 to avoid a second consecutive first-round sweep and bring the series to Washington for an elimination game. Washington showed plenty of flashes of good play against New York and led for chunks of the game, but Sabrina Ionescu and her teammates proved too much.
Washington enters the game as a 10.5-point underdog in the sportsbooks and will play again without starting center Shakira Austin. Here’s the preview for this must-win game:
When: Tuesday, September 19 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
How to Watch: ESPN
Mystics: Shakira Austin (hip), Kristi Toliver (torn ACL)
Liberty: Han Xu (overseas commitment)
The Mystics suffered a deflating loss in Game 1 against the Liberty in front of a raucous Barclays Center crowd. They surged out to a six-point lead by the end of the first quarter on the back of Natasha Cloud’s six assists and aggressive play. Betnijah Laney’s 14-point outburst kept the Liberty in the game until they took the lead late in the first half. New York would not look back as Sabrina Ionescu poured in 20 points in the second half.
The Mystics’ shooting faltered as it has in most of their losses this season. They shot 5-of-22 from three (22.7%) as the Liberty buried 12 of their 34 attempts from deep (35.3%). Five of New York’s players with 10 or more field goal attempts hit 50% or better from the field while only Myisha Hines-Allen managed to achieve those numbers for Washington.
Hines-Allen’s offense was a bright spot for the Mystics. She stepped into the starting lineup for the injured Shakira Austin and had her best offensive game this year. But she struggled (predictably) in her defensive matchup against the much bigger Jonquel Jones, who put up 20 points and 12 rebounds. As Austin remains out, Washington must still reckon with that mismatch in Game 2.
The most worrying sign for the Mystics may be that Breanna Stewart had a career-worst offensive playoff performance in Game 1. She scored just 10 points on 3-of-16 shooting, both career playoff worsts. Washington’s defense did a great job on Stewart in this game and in their regular season matchups, but it’s hard to envision her having another poor performance in Game 2.
The Mystics simply need to score more efficiently to keep their season going on Tuesday. The team will certainly try to get Elena Delle Donne more than the 12 field goal attempts she had in Game 1. But EDD has not led the team in their two wins against New York in the regular season. Washington’s perimeter players led the way in those games. Brittney Sykes and Ariel Atkins put up decent scoring totals on inefficient shooting while Natasha Cloud struggled mightily, shooting 1-of-8 from the field. All three will need to have steller outings for Washington to have a chance to upset the Liberty.