Mystics begin win streak despite shooting woes, bench lifts team for gutsy win over Las Vegas

Bench contributes 41 points in Washington’s win over Las Vegas

WASHINGTON –The Washington Mystics and Las Vegas Aces went tit-for-tat as the Mystics were up 71-70 with 19 seconds remaining in regulation in a Tuesday matchup at Capital One Arena.

Mystics guard Natasha Cloud brought the ball down and dribbled at the top of the key. At the tail end helping her team erase a 16-point deficit, Cloud embraced the moment for what it could be: a winning one. She drove through the clogged lane and the ball bounced off the glass, putting the Mystics in front 73-70 with 13.6 seconds left. With an extra stop on the other side, the Mystics had put the gnawing game away.

After battling through rough shooting droughts and a hungry, winless Las Vegas team, the Mystics fought from behind for a 75-70 win.

“I don’t even know where to start, except the [Mystics] team I kind of expected, showed up in the second half a little bit,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said. “To our players’ credit, as frustrated as they were at halftime, they kept playing.”

The Mystics started the game with a 0-for-9 shooting drought until forward Elena Delle Donne, who battled through her own shooting deficiency going 5-for-18 against Indiana Fever in the team’s opener over the weekend, swished two free throws in. She soon became the lifeline Washington’s offense.

“They carried me against Indiana, so it was the least I could do to step up and hit a couple shots for them,” Delle Donne said. “It was one of those games where the ball wasn’t falling in the right direction. I think we let that affect our defense a little bit.”

As the Mystics fought against their drought, eight Aces were on the scoreboard as rookie forward Jaime Nared rolled with a team-high seven points at the half. A post-heavy team, Thibault and the Mystics failed to hinder ball movement in Las Vegas’ strong spots in the paint. The Aces found a rolling rhythm as their forward-center quartet combined for 20 points.

This year’s overall first draft pick forward A’ja Wilson defended Delle Donne with rookie patience. Delle Donne showed determination to fight through the shooting drought that swallowed the Mystics’ offensive momentum whole. She continued to be the saving grace as the once 16-point deficit folded to just eight at halftime, nearing a double-double with 17 points and eight rebounds at the intermission. The Aces led 31-23 at halftime.

The Mystics surpassed their turnover average at the intermission at 11, where the Aces found 12 of their 31 points. Though the Aces had eleven turnovers as well, the Mystics were only able to convert just two points. Washington didn’t wallow in their rough start for long.

“In the locker room, we left like we were in a really good place because we just couldn’t hit a single shot and we were only down eight at half,” Delle Donne said. “We knew if we could get stops and let our offense get into a good flow and get out into transition a little bit, we would be able to loosen up and hit shots.”

A change of momentum hit Washington during the second half. The Mystics’ ball movement kept their comeback chances alive as forward Tianna Hawkins began to contribute seven third quarter points.

Five other Mystics managed to score as Delle Donne and the starters sat. The burst of energy from the bench players helped Washington pick up the pace to outscore Las Vegas 21-13 in third quarter, entering the final quarter tied at 44.

Hawkins kept her streak going to add eight-straight points to start the fourth quarter. She finished with the second highest 17 points while walking on a thin line of four personal fouls. Hawkins said her confidence kept her game rolling to lift the Mystics in desperate times.

“I couldn’t get in my own head,” Hawkins said. “If the first doesn’t go in, I know the second shot will. I have to keep that mentality.”

The hot streak hit rookie guard Ariel Atkins who sunk in 10 late fourth quarter points and finished with 15. With a nail-biting ending, the Mystics came out on top thanks to 41 bench points. Atkins, Hawkins and Cloud dropped 39 points while Myisha Hines-Allen helped spread the defensive and set offensive looks. She had two points.

“Our bench, Atkins, obviously was great, Hawkins was great, Cloud was great, made some big plays at the end,” Thibault said. “Myisha gave us a big lift and that’s what we are going to need when other people are struggling. I’m really proud of our young players.”

The forward fiasco ended with Delle Donne capturing a team-high double-double of 21 points while Wilson also notched Aces’ team-high 16 points and eight rebounds for the second game of her career. Wilson called the matchup a special moment, referencing Delle Donne as one of her idols as a forward.

“Your idols become your rivals,” Wilson said. “It is crazy. I remember going to see her play in Atlanta when she was in Chicago and now I am playing against her, I am defending her. It is something special.”

Delle Donne spoke highly of the rookie. She said her moments in the paint are dominant and something that will grow as she furthers her career in the league.

“She’s a great player,” Delle Donne said of Wilson. “Awesome skill set. She’s super athletic for her frame. If you let her get you deep down in the post- you’re in trouble. It’ll be a fun matchup for years to come.”

Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer pointed to lack of depth and shooting to their loss. Las Vegas was missing Kelsey Plum and Kayla McBride who were returning from overseas play, two meaningful guard pieces who could help their team improve a 39 percent shooting performance. The Aces went 1-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Though shorthanded on guard play, the Aces found 36 of their 70 points in the paint. Las Vegas showed bright spots in the game, out rebounding the Mystics 36-30 and only allowing 13 points from their 18 turnovers.

“Shooting 40 percent is better than shooting 26 [percent] that we shot last game,” Laimbeer said. “We know we’re challenged a little bit to score – we don’t have the shooters [and] we’re missing some players. Our top four scorers from last year aren’t here, and we were the last-place team last year. Pretty challenging, however, I give our players all the effort credit.”

Las Vegas will host the Seattle Storm in their first-ever home game next Sunday. It will air on NBATV at 8:30 p.m. ET. Washington will travel to Indianapolis May 24 at 7 p.m. ET for a home opener rematch. It will air on NBCSWA.

Game Notes

  • Points in the Paint: Aces: 36 Mystics: 22
  • 2nd Chance Points: Aces: 11 Mystics: 6
  • Fastbreak Points: Aces: 8 Mystics: 10
  • Biggest Lead: Aces: 16 Mystics: 5
  • Technical Fouls: – Defensive Three Seconds Mystics: Hawkins 4:43 3rd 1st; Aces: Wilson 8:30 4th
  • Attendance: 4,509


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