The Mystics closed out the Wings and moved on to the second round of the WNBA Playoffs yesterday. Though Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman are going to be given credit for leading the Mystics to victory, they weren’t going to be able to do this alone. Krystal Thomas had 17 rebounds, and Kristi Toliver added 16 points.
But the player who provided the most clutch performance on Wednesday was Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. She scored just seven points and grabbed three rebounds for the game. Those numbers sound pedestrian in a vacuum, but she stepped up in the fourth quarter during a two minute stretch that sealed Washington its first playoff series win since 2002. Here’s how she did it.
Ruffin-Pratt scored back to back baskets with a block in between to stop a 9-0 Wings run
With 5:08 left in the fourth quarter, the Mystics were up 71-58. They were on the verge of just walking to the finish line. Except that the Wings had one more run in them. After an initial Dallas 5-0, run the Mystics called timeout. Usually that stops the bleeding, but in this case, Skylar Diggins-Smith quickly made two layups to make the score 71-67 with 3:13 left.
On the following possession, Delle Donne missed a shot, but Ruffin-Pratt secured the offensive rebound. Seconds later, Toliver missed a three point shot, but Krystal Thomas grabbed an offensive rebound. Ultimately, Delle Donne found TRP for a mid-range shot in with 2:28 left. On the following Mystics possession, TRP made another shot to extend the lead to eight, 75-67.
In between her shots, Dallas had a shot clock violation, but that wasn’t without a TRP block on Aerial Powers along the way.
We are sometimes tough on Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, but she closed out yesterday's game. This is just 1 highlight here. pic.twitter.com/3x5OgA8HSV— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) September 7, 2017
TRP wasn’t gonna back down from Aerial Powers and the Wings’ dirty play
With 1:33 left in the game Ruffin-Pratt and Powers -- the same player whose shot she blocked a minute earlier, battled for a rebound. TRP was charged with a loose ball foul and fell to the floor with Powers. Powers’ arm was on TRP’s face because of it, but it stayed there just a second too long. Ultimately, there was a scuffle and there were double technicals given and fans were chanting “T-R-P!” in support of her.
1. TRP's not gonna get disrespected. 2. Glory Johnson stepped her right leg out in TRP's way at the end of the GIF. pic.twitter.com/HQTGjYCRwF— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) September 7, 2017
What some fans may not have noticed right away was that Wings post Glory Johnson stepped her right leg out momentarily, which got in Ruffin-Pratt’s way as she was separated. Let’s say that TRP was aware at the time that this happened and she fell. Then things could have gone down south quite a bit more. I’m not sure if Johnson was trying to trip TRP, but in the postseason, some fans will take it that way.
This wasn’t the only chippy moment in the game. Johnson also got called for fouling Emma Meesseman while battling for a rebound, and her hand hit Meesseman in the face. Something similar happened last month when Meesseman was hit incidentally by Karima Christmas-Kelly.
She swings her left arm BEHIND HER and nails Meesseman in the jaw...trash. GJ does it to K Thomas a minute later. S O L A M E pic.twitter.com/BRb7WJdXsp— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) August 27, 2017
It doesn’t stop there. When the Mystics got the ball back after that possession, Powers fouled TRP and made her fall.
Even after TRP's scuffle, Aerial Powers managed to foul her and make her fall pic.twitter.com/m2ppqt22fR— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) September 7, 2017
Fortunately, the refs called the foul quickly and nothing escalated. In the following possession, Powers made a shot over Meesseman, but got her second technical foul and was ejected when she questioned a “no-call.”
The whole thing is bizarre, but given how Powers was playing and how physical this game was, I’m not surprised she got the second technical.
In the playoffs, superstars get the glory (no pun intended on Glory Johnson). But there are always role players who step in to make big plays and help said superstars get the glory. In the first round of the playoffs, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt did just that in a critical two minute stretch that helped stop a Dallas Wings run, and get the Mystics past the first round of the playoffs in 15 years. If the Mystics can ultimately make the semifinals (or even further) this season, this stretch could be a defining moment for this season’s playoff run and to fans for years to come.