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Five takeaways from Natasha Cloud’s game winner over the Sparks

The Mystics are legitimate WNBA championship contenders folks!

Natasha Cloud is probably running on all adrenaline as we speak on a flight from Washington to Minneapolis when the Mystics play the Lynx tomorrow night. But that’s not going to stop the bloggers from dissecting every possible meaning of her game winning shot against the Sparks on Friday night, which you can see above.

1. Cloud had to take a difficult shot into the clouds to win the game

The Mystics only had a bit over three seconds to take the last shot in Friday’s game. Elena Delle Donne or Kristi Toliver would normally take that shot. But Toliver wasn’t open and Delle Donne couldn’t make herself free. Hell, even Cloud wasn’t open when she had the ball. If anything, the Sparks were looking forward to overtime as long as they made things hard for her with the score tied at 67.

Instead, Cloud made a quick behind the back crossover, fell off balance, took a shot while falling down before the buzzer sounded .... and SWISH!

2. Cloud made a game winner against the reigning Defensive Player of the Year

The play itself is SportsCenter highlight material. But Cloud had to take the shot of her career (so far) against Alana Beard, the 2017 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year!

Beard may be 36 years old but her defense still appears to be improving each and every year. In fact, Beard was named to the WNBA All-Defensive first team in both 2016 and 2017. And on this play, Beard didn’t fall for Cloud’s crossover tricks. She forced Cloud to take a shot while falling down. She did one hell of a job making things really hard for a player who otherwise wouldn’t be expected to take a game winning shot.

3. Cloud made a game winner against a Mystics all-time great who never got to fully enjoy the franchise’s best moments

There’s a deeper meaning to Cloud’s game winner and to Beard in particular. Beard is a long-time Mystics player herself where she played for Washington from 2004-2011. Along the way, Beard made four WNBA All-Star teams from 2005-2007 and 2009. In fact, she’s regarded as the best player in Mystics franchise history after Chamique Holdsclaw.

Beard was on the Mystics when Washington had their first 22-win season back in 2010, but she missed the whole season due to injury. In fact, she missed all of the 2011 season due to the same reasons. In fact, I still wonder what it would have been like if Beard never had those injuries and got to play on that 2010 Mystics team and beyond. Would she be known as the best Mystics player of all-time today?

Before we start feeling too bad for Beard, things have still turned out very well for her. She’s still a reliable scorer when her number is called and was a key part of the Sparks’ championship team in 2016. But if you followed the Mystics since the mid 2000’s, you’re also wondering what went through Beard’s mind last night since they are the first team she played for.

4. Cloud ensured that the 2018 Mystics team will have a record at least as good as the 2010 team

The Mystics made the 2017 WNBA semifinals, but they also did so as an 18-16 team that was mediocre for much of the regular season. For that reason, it’s up for debate whether last year’s team was the best in franchise history. After all, the 2002 team made the Eastern Conference Finals as a 17-15 squad, while the 2010 team was 22-12 and earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

After Cloud’s game winner, this year’s Mystics team will at least tie the 2010 team’s record while playing a schedule that is more difficult than their team’s. I can go on and on, but regardless of where this team finishes in the postseason, the 2018 team is the best ever in franchise history.

5. The winning play just sent a message that the Mystics can win a championship ... THIS YEAR

After the game, Cloud was interviewed by color analyst Christy Winters-Scott. She boldly stated, “This is a championship team — YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST!”

Cloud said that the Mystics are a championship team again after leaving the court.

The Mystics were widely expected to make the playoffs this season. But very few anticipated that they would seriously be in the championship picture. But after an eight game win streak (including that Aces forfeit which isn’t Washington’s fault), the Mystics have put themselves in the conversation.

The Lynx and Sparks are both back in the playoffs but both teams, especially Minnesota, have regressed. It’s unlikely we’ll see both teams make the Finals for a third straight year. The Storm will be the WNBA’s dynasty of the future. They’re in position to win titles with Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd as part of their young core but don’t have playoff wins under their belt.

The Mystics aren’t a superteam with two or three top overall draft picks. They won’t be favored to win a championship this season or the next. But the Mystics have a legitimate franchise player now in Delle Donne and a cast of players who work really well with her.

It doesn’t happen often when a “one superstar team” wins a WNBA championship, but it isn’t unprecedented. The 2018 Washington Mystics remind me of the 2012 Indiana Fever who won the championship with one franchise superstar in Tamika Catchings and a strong supporting cast who gelled at the right time.

I’ll admit that I didn’t expect the Mystics to win it all this year before the season began. But after this long win streak, I can’t deny it. The Mystics are legitimate WNBA championship contenders and there’s a good chance they’ll finish this season on top.