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A supporting bench leads to a Mystics victory at home against the Aces

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Tianna Hawkins and Ariel Atkins came up big when the game mattered most.

ariel atkins washington mystics Stewart W. Small

Call it a rocky start or just plain hit rock bottom. Whatever you want to call the first half of the Washington Mystics and Las Vegas Aces (0-2) game, please do so accordingly. Well head coach Mike Thibault called the first half “Jekyll” and the second half “Hyde”, so for now we’ll go with that.

It certainly was a brick house for Washington (2-0) as they struggled early on shooting 20 percent (7-35 FG), down 31-23 in the first half. Elena Delle Donne had majority of Washington’s points with 17 also adding eight rebounds, finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds. The remaining six points were split between Myisha Hines-Allen, Krystal Thomas and Kristi Toliver.

At the half, Washington was able to (more so needed to) regroup and come out with a better half than before. Mystics outscored the Aces 21-13 in the third quarter, 52-39 overall in the second half.

Thibault mentioned he never really challenged his players to do different tasks individually, but more so challenged the team at hafltime as a whole to up their defensive pressure.

“Sometimes we have a team that doesn’t make a lot of three’s and you tend to play safe defense and even though we want them to take jump shots; we don’t want them to take them with our hands down,” he said. “We had to get closer and bother a little more and we tell our players we want teams to take contested two’s, not two’s that are open.”

“In the first half, I don’t think we did a real good job of that and I challenged them at halftime to be better at it and then I challenged them to be more efficient offensively to move the ball and play side-to-side a little more.”

And the award for best supporting cast goes to...

Although Delle Donne scored most of the Mystics’ points to keep their 16-point deficit at a minimum, the bench helped rally the comeback. Forward Tianna Hawkins and rookie guard Ariel Atkins helped set the tone and keep Washington afloat. Hawkins tied her career-high of 17 points and Atkins added 15 of her own even knocking down 3 of 6 three-pointers.

The glue of the bench was none other than Natasha Cloud. Good composure, setting up the plays and being a leader on the floor is what helped her teammates secure the win. As a bench player, Cloud understands the role of being a spark player as well as for those coming off the bench with her.

“There can’t be any drop offs when we come into the game like our pace of play needs to intensify,” Cloud said. “So for us it’s just being a spark off the bench and bringing energy and pushing the pace and making things a little bit more easier for Elena and Kristi to get some shots off.”

Cloud took upon herself with 13 seconds left to drive the lane for lay-up that gave Washington a 73-70 lead. Aces’ center Carolyn Swords then missed a driving lay-up, in which Hawkins secured the rebound and was immediately fouled. Sinking two free throws extended their lead and gave Las Vegas their second loss of the season.

Despite how the beginning of the match up began, Thibault gave credit to his team.

“As frustrated as they were at halftime, they kept playing,” he said. “ All we kept talking about every timeout is just keep getting some stops and we’ll figure out a way to get our offense flowing a little bit.”