Mystics make magic for 82-75 win against Indiana to open up the season, rookies get their feet wet
Washington Mystics begin season on a winning note with win over Indiana Fever
— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) May 20, 2018
WASHINGTON – With forty minutes to go before the season opener, Mystics head coach Mike Thibault sat relaxed, focused on watching guard Kristi Toliver warm up with mid-range jumpers.
“Go out and play,” Thibault told the team before facing the Indiana Fever. “Do what we’ve been doing during training camp and go out there and play.”
After shaking off some nerves, that’s what the Mystics did to win their season opener 82-75.
“We’ll take the win,” Thibault said. “It was some nerves in the beginning, but we played hard. Our bench, particularly our young players, gave us some momentum.”
It took time for the Mystics’ offseason work to translate on the floor. Shooting droughts and empty possessions were used to shake off some nerves. Washington’s defensive improvements helped them earn a small 21-17 edge in the first quarter.
Veteran forward Elena Delle Donne fought against her scoring drought, going 1-for-9 before the break. A low scoring first half still put the Mystics in front with a 38-30 lead.
The Mystics kicked off the second half with a fast-paced, productive offense. While veterans set their usual standards, the second unit was sharp and in sync. Unafraid rookies made their statement early off the stat sheet. First-year forward Myisha Hines-Allen showcased her skills, breaking up plays and swallowing up offensive options for Indiana.
Her quick agility around the rim helped defend the ball and find open teammates. She finished with six points and two rebounds..
“One of the things I like to do is compete for the ball,” Hines-Allen said. “I try to focus on rebounding. I want to be a defensive stopper.”
Hines-Allen credited her college team Louisville for her groundbreaking performance. The high tempo, transitional offense of her alma mater’s team equipped her with the skills to be and dominant off the shot and helped keep the Mystics afloat during the second unit’s appearance.
“It’s a little different” Hines-Allen said. “I was able to keep up. [At Louisville] we were a transition team so it was a step quicker. I was able to keep up and some of the things I did in college I’ve been doing here.”
Thibault said he was impressed with the younger set’s attention to detail and effort on the ball. With a veteran team to start with, having a team able to keep up will grow into their intensity building another growing team for the Mystics.
“One of the things I like about our rookies is that they are not afraid of big moments and they’ve been in big games,” Thibault said. “When they came in, they played at a good pace. They came in and got a couple of steals. I was thrilled how that group played.”
Rookies for the Fever also locked into their new positions. For the second game of the year, new additions like guards Victoria Vivians and Kelsey Mitchell focused on making an impact.
Vivians’ aggression on defense kept the ball away from Mystic guards before the home team upstaged the Fever with an upset. She finished with five points and two steals. Mitchell added onto a shooting frenzy in the second half with 16 points. Her falling shots kept the Fever in range of a comeback.
“It’s the start to something,” Mitchell said. “Knowing my assignment and knowing my personnel has helped me. I have to make sure my mind is cleared and focused. I have to make sure I’m making my team go up instead of slowing it up.”
Fluid ball movement helped Washington mount 18 assists with just 10 turnovers. The Mystics look to improve defending the rim, as the Fever brought down 12 more rebounds against the Mystics. Fever veteran forward Candice Dupree said that it’s nice to see her progress documented but there is still work to be done to capture a victory.
“We can keep building on those things but we have to knock down shots,” Dupree said. “We can’t have shooting breakdowns in the games.”
Indiana showed momentum and offensive rhythm in the third quarter. With both teams at their offensive peak, a high scoring quarter ended with the Mystics in front 61-51 after outscoring Indiana 23-21.
As Indiana climbed their uphill battle, the starters began cleaning up some of the young mistakes of the Mystics’ second set. With a minute left to go in the final minutes, Kelsey Mitchell began closing the gap as 15-point deficit shrunk to just six points.
Out of transition, Toliver knocked down an important three bringing increasing the margin to nine and closing out the game. She finished with a team-high of 16 points. “There was no pressure, it’s just a shot that was needed” Toliver said. “I think we did a good job of having a feel of the game and not letting anything slip in that last minute.”
The Mystics’ three-pointers were the difference-maker in the team’s shots. Contrary to the rough start, four Mystics starters finished in double digits.
“The nice thing about Mo’, Elena and Kristi is that they’ve been through this already,” Thibault said. “They’re not afraid of those moments at the end of games either.”
Defensive improvements helped the Mystics gather the 82-75 win. Thibault said there are small things the team needs to work as they look to their Tuesday matchup against the Las Vegas Aces.
“They’re short on guards but they have some great post players,” Thibault said on the upcoming match. “That’ll be the focus in both defending them as scorers and also on the board.”
The Aces pay a visit to Capital One Arena at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be aired on NBCSWA.
- Points in the Paint: Fever: 26 Mystics: 22
- 2nd Chance Points: Fever: 16 Mystics: 8
- Fastbreak Points: 11 Mystics: 4
- Biggest Lead: Mystics: 15 Fever: 3
- Technical Fouls: Mystics: Ruffin-Pratt 4:59 1st; Fever: None.
- Attendance: 7,400