Free throws crucial in thriller as Mystics secure 78-76 win over Sun
WASHINGTON – The Washington Mystics completed a last-second comeback to top the Connecticut Sun 78-76 Wednesday afternoon at the Verizon Center. The Mystics improved to 3-2 while the Sun fell to 1-5.
“At the moment, it feels really ugly,” head coach Mike Thibault said of the close win postgame. “We made a lot of mistakes and figured out a way to defend hard enough to win. When you shoot 35 percent and still win, you can find the beauty in that.”
The Sun came out shining, dominating in perimeter shooting. The Mystics did not seem to have an answer for their opponent, trailing by 8-0 in the first minute of the game before Thibault called a timeout. Sun forward Shekinna Stricklen and center Jonquel Jones led the Sun in the first quarter as the Mystics struggled to establish their own offensive patterns.
“I think they scored a little bit more because of our bad offense at the start,” Thibault said. “They came out of transition because we missed shots. We made some individual mistakes defensively, then Jonquel Jones comes out and makes a couple, then that makes you change your defense a little bit.”
Without starting forward Morgan Tuck in the lineup (knee contusion), Sun head coach Curt Miller knew utilizing other shooters would throw off what the Mystics had prepared.
“Our game plan early got them out of their basic defense,” Miller said. “It obviously disrupted them and we guarded [Elena] Delle Donne the best anyone’s going to do it all year.”
The Sun did not seem to miss a beat without Tuck as Jones and Stricklen stepped up to the plate, scoring 34 of the Sun’s 76 points.
“We played the same way and ran the same sets,” Jones said. “I think we did a good job defensively but we didn’t play smarter than [Mystics].”
Washington’s usual defensive leader, guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt fell into early foul trouble with three personal fouls in the first half. Mystics rookie guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough helped by making shots, defending the ball and creating a second chances to help her team retain possession of the ball.
Tayler Hill led Washington in the first half with 8 points as the Sun had issues defending the superb shooter as well as veteran guard Kristi Toliver.
At the half, the Mystics led 34-32. When Ruffin-Pratt re-entered the game in the third quarter, she did not hold on to her past mistakes and slowed down the Sun with her usual defense. She scored the first six points in the third period.
“She knows that there’s things she does well,” Thibault said about Ruffin-Pratt. “When she gets back to those things, like defending and rebounding, she’s a big factor.”
Things began to take a turn for the worse for the Sun in the fourth quarter as their personal fouls began to add up, putting the Mystics on the free throw line. The fouls led to Stricklen, the Sun’s top shooter, sitting out in the final minutes of the last period after accumulating her sixth personal foul. She led the Sun with 20 points plus five rebounds. Jones added 14 points and 13 rebounds. Lynetta Kizer was also in double figures for the Sun with 12 points plus 8 rebounds.
“We got in a good rhythm and my teammates were looking for me,” Stricklen said of her performance. “We were playing it smart. I think this [loss] is going to really bite us. We have to figure it out and quit making the same mistakes. We do foul a lot and teams know that.”
Though the Mystics only completed 31.6 percent of their shots, their free throws helped them win the game. They went to the line for 29 shots, completing 26 (89.7 percent) of the free throws.
“When we put this team together we made sure our best players were good free throw shooters,” Thibault said. “When you’re struggling shooting the ball, it helps when your two leading scorers can shoot 15 free throws between them. It’s bailed us out.”
Hill had a team-high of 18 points for the Mystics, seven which were from free throws. She also dished out 8 assists. Though Delle Donne was not producing her usual shooting beyond the arc and driving to the basket, her rebounds and free throws still helped her impact the Mystics.
Without her quality offense, her persistence and dominance on defense kept the ball away from the Sun at the end of the game. In addition to 13 points, she had a team-high of 12 rebounds that included four defensive rebounds in the nail biting fourth quarter. Being the battled tested and experienced forward, she knew that her offensive performance could not be the only way she could influence the team victory.
“To know that we can get stops when we need to is crucial,” Delle Donne said, “You never know if shots are going to fall. You hope you do but there’s going to be like nights like this and defense can always be consistent.”
She scored the last points for the Mystics with an and-1 shot after being fouled on her layup.
“[Delle Donne] has the composure to make plays when the game is on the line,” Thibault said. “She even did other things today. She rebounded the ball, blocked five shots – that makes up for your shooting and it keeps you in the game.”
Center Krystal Thomas was also in double figures for the Mystics with 11 points plus 9 rebounds.
Thibault also looked for ten-year veteran guard Ivory Latta to help keep the team’s composure during thriller games.
“I know Ivory didn’t shoot the ball great but she got to the free throw line and she made other plays,” Thibault said. “I thought she energized our team too.”
Latta said the team knew to take it one possession at a time though their offense wasn’t flowing in the beginning of the fourth quarter and to trust that the victorious ending Thibault envisioned would happen.
“I made a promise that I was going to out there and be the Energizer bunny and have the energy we need,” Latta said. “I also wanted to make sure everybody was comfortable.”
The Mystics will be back in the Verizon Center on Sunday, June 4 at 3 p.m. ET for a matchup against the Atlanta Dream. On Saturday, the Connecticut Sun will play the San Antonio Stars in Dallas.
- Eleven of the Mystics’ 19 first quarter points came off the bench [Cloud (4), Latta (3), Hawkins (2), Walker-Kimbrough (2)].
- As a team, Connecticut shot 10-17 (.588) from behind the arc.
- The Mystics and Sun each recorded 38 total rebounds. Connecticut topped the Mystics in assists, 20-17.
- Three Mystics players tied with a team-high five fourth quarter points (Delle Donne, Thomas, Hill).
- Points in the Paint: Sun 26 (13/37), Mystics 24 (12/29).
- 2nd Chance Points: Sun 18 (7/16), Mystics 6 (1/10).
- Fast Break Points: Sun 9 (4/5), Mystics 10 (2/3).