Washington Mystics overcome injury bug, rout out Atlanta Dream 100-96 in OT “gut check” contest
MYSTICS WIN IN OVERTIME!!! pic.twitter.com/dV1wkYt2C4
— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) July 19, 2017
WASHINGTON D.C. – The Washington Mystics overcame adverse circumstances of injuries and shaky chemistry with a 100-96 overtime win against the Atlanta Dream in front of 15,597 camp day kids and fans at the Verizon Center.
“That’s one of the better wins we’ve had here given the circumstances we’ve had,” Head coach Mike Thibault said about the comeback win. “We got a gut check.”
Missing Elena Delle Donne (right ankle sprain), it was fellow forward Emma Meesseman’s job to defend the post for the Mystics and control the paint, minimizing the effect of Dream forward Sancho Lyttle.
“We talked to our players,’’ Thibault said, “When you have adversity, players have to step up. You can’t be afraid of big moments. In games like this, you can’t be shy about taking shots.”
Starting guard Tayler Hill is out for the rest of the season with an ACL tear in her right knee. This requires the Mystics to fill yet another hole in their team and make up for the 13 points Hill averages per game.
“When you’re in games like this you can’t be shy of taking shots. Clearly, the message got through to Kristi [Toliver] today.” Thibault said. “We told we needed her to be more aggressive.”
Starting guard Toliver finished the game with a season-high 29 points along with four other teammates in double digits. After the three previous losses on the road, Thibault and Toliver concluded how aggressive Toliver needed to elevate the team.
“I knew I needed to be aggressive and coach was telling me to seek out more shots,” Toliver said on her performance. “He said, ‘even if they’re bad shots, right now, I just need you to be more aggressive.’ I was just taking good looks and my teammates were doing a really good job of finding me in the right spot.”
Meesseman only had two points before the end of the first half and though Lyttle had only six, the Dream found most of their opportunities to score in the paint. The Dream scored 28 points with a 56-41 lead at halftime.
Poor shooting and a collapsing defense against the Dream’s high paced offense stunted the Mystics’ opportunities to cut the lead. The Dream shot 64.7 percent from the field in the first half and 71.4 percent from 3-point range. The Mystics had a hard time getting shots to fall going 37.5 percent from the field after two quarters.
Nevertheless, Toliver gave a stellar performance with 19 points in the first half while the team was still finding their own rhythm and consistency. Center Krystal Thomas defended the rim with six rebounds as guard Natasha Cloud finished with eight assists.
Meesseman began to strike back with Toliver as the momentum began shifting in their direction during the third quarter. The Belgian forward scored 16 points in the second half and helped to spread the floor with seven assists while Thomas finished with 17 rebounds.
“It’s very heartening,” Thibault said about Meesseman’s performance. “One thing we kept reminding her…after having a bad shooting half, she has to come out and keep shooting. She understands the major role we need her to play.”
“I was getting the ball to the open man,” Meesseman said on her team performance. “Today we saw we can play in the second half. We have the energy to play in the second half and fight.”
The Mystics overcame their usual problem of coming into the second half with an electric energy. The bombarding defensive performance and Camp Day energy helped the Mystics outscore the Dream 23-16 in the third quarter, cutting the once 21-point lead down to just five after a pair of free throws from Kristi Toliver. The defensive performance, led by Natasha Cloud, caused havoc for the Dream in the final quarter.
“The biggest stat in the game was our defense,” Thibault said. “In the second half, we went from giving up 28 in the first half to just 10 in the second and overtime. We held them to two points in the paint in the last 15 minutes of the game. That’s hard to do against a team like that.”
Cloud’s eagerness to prevail in the team’s adversity shined in her resilient defense, forcing turnovers and keeping the Mystics’ game tempo upbeat. Cloud finished with 10 points, team-high eight assists and rebounds.
“I’ve been mostly focused on my defense,” Cloud said. “For the most part, it’s the competitor in me. We just lost three on the road and we needed to figure it out. Winning with Tayler (Hill) permanently and Elena (Delle Donne) temporarily out with our backs against the wall is huge for us in a time like this.”
In addition to Cloud, reserve players, guards Ivory Latta and Tianna Hawkins, combined for 38 points showing the importance of bench depth for the Mystics.
“[This win] was much needed,” Latta said. “We have been trying to get this monkey off our backs. We buckled down on the defensive end and were able to get some easy points. Toliver had a great game. Everyone else stepped up and did well too.”
Latta finished with 10 points and three rebounds.
“We had a big lead and we didn’t finish,” Atlanta guard Hayes said. “I think we did a great job in the start. They just fought back, they didn’t give up and they won the game.”
Atlanta Dream head coach Michael Cooper said the fiery identity of the Dream in the first half was lost when they needed it the most. The Mystics outscored the Dream 11-7 in a nail biting overtime to capture the win.
“When it came crunch time, I thought the rebounding really took over,” Cooper said. “I thought we were even at halftime. I think we lost our composure when they were coming back and we still had an opportunity to win it.”
As the WNBA heads into the All-Star break, the Mystics improve to 12-9 in the season while the Dream drop to 9-11 on the season. Washington’s win helps the team see a brighter future after the break is over, playing the San Antonio Stars in Texas on July 25. The Mystics will return to the Verizon Center July 28 to face the Connecticut Sun.
“We really need the break physically,” Thibault said. “The All-Star break is here at a good time for us. We know we have things to fix and get better at but we’ve known that. We’re not going to be who we are until the end.”
- This was the second meeting between the Mystics and the Dream this season. The Mystics are now 2-0 in the three-game series.
- Five Mystics scored in double figures: Toliver (29), Meesseman (18), guard Ivory Latta (18), forward Natasha Cloud (10) and forward Tianna Hawkins (10).
- Rebounds: Mystics: 42, Dream: 35
- Both Mystics and Dream scored 38 points in the paint
- 2nd Chance Shots: Mystics: 31 (11/16), Dream: 10 (3/8)
- Fast Break Points: Dream: 17 (4/6), Mystics: 2 (1/4)
- Mystics: Krystal Thomas recorded her season high rebounds (prev. 14)
- Dream: Brittney Sykes recorded her career high points (prev. 20)