• October 21, 2021

Without Delle Donne, Mystics drop second straight game; Sun stay undefeated for best-ever start at 5-0

WASHINGTON (June 3, 2018) - Washington's Ariel Atkins vs. Connecticut's Courtney Williams. Photo: NBAE/Getty Images.
WASHINGTON (June 3, 2018) – Washington’s Ariel Atkins vs. Connecticut’s Courtney Williams. Photo © NBAE/Getty Images.

WASHINGTON – Sunday afternoon the Washington Mystics (5-3) wanted to keep their home court tradition of winning intact against Eastern Conference rival Connecticut Sun (5-0) after a three-game road trip that resulted in two dropped games. Battling for the top Eastern Conference spot, the Mystics looked to stop the blazing undefeated Sun but fell short as Connecticut beat them 88-64 at Capital One Arena.

“Basically, I don’t recognize the team that showed up for us today,” head coach Mike Thibault said about the loss. “I thought for two of the games on the road we played really, really good basketball, and then Friday in Vegas and today, that was not good basketball in any shape or form. It’s embarrassing. We have a chance to regroup [and] get some days now to maybe practice this week and see if we can get ourselves going.”

The Mystics had a rough start as Connecticut quickly made their mark on the scoreboard. As All-Star forward Elena Delle Donne sat out with stomach flu complications, fellow veteran forward Monique Currie showcased grit and strength to pull Mystics out of their shooting hole. Rookie guard Ariel Atkins also helped Washington overcome shooting issues.

Early on, the Sun’s scoring options consisted of guards Courtney Williams and Jasmine Thomas who combined for 33 points in their team’s win. Connecticut maintained 70 percent shooting from the field, going 4-of-5 beyond the arc in the first quarter, controlling the tempo and movement in the game.

“We only had 10 points in the paint at halftime but the reason we were still winning was Jasmine’s play,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “She made a lot of outside jumpers, she spaced the floor, she got us playing the tempo, obviously she was the difference in the game tonight.”

The Mystics scrambled for a comeback, crawling back through a 30-18 deficit at the end of the first quarter. When needed, bench depth was the key to making comebacks. Defensive switches washed out points in the paint as rookie forward Myisha Hines-Allen turned up the heat against Sun stars Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas.

Poor shooting continued to stunt the Mystics, forcing them to execute in miraculous fashion to fight off losses. Through their first eight games, Washington has been outscored 209-167 in the opening quarter.

A 9-0 run from the Mystics collapsed their 14-point deficit to just 37-35 as shots began falling. Washington lost momentum as the Sun went on their own 14-0 run, sealing a 49-35 lead at halftime. The Sun’s Thomas had a monstrous half with 18 points.

“My teammates told me to take my shot confidently,” Thomas said. “Just them first of all pushing me, and finding me, and they were going under on screens and I was looking for my shot.”

Miller expressed his game plan as a fast tempo, dominant opening to keep the Mystics away from their comeback.

“I thought our defense really came to play,” Miller said. “We did not back down. They are a tough team and we did not back down to the Curries and the Thomas’ and the [Tierra Ruffin Pratt’s] of the world. We competed with them and that is important because they are tough. They can really bully you.”

Dominating with tempo and poise, the Sun outscored the Mystics 25-12 in the third quarter for an astonishing 74-47 lead. Connecticut’s dominant third quarter prolonged the Sun’s momentum which maximized into a 27-point lead. As Washington outscored Connecticut 17-14 in a fourth quarter hustle, it was not enough as the key second and third quarters buried them in hole. With the win, the Sun have the best start in franchise history after five straight victories.

Poor shooting was the main culprit of the Mystics dropping their first home game. A usual strong suit, the Mystics went just 3-of-21 from three-point range. The Sun averaged a three-point success rate of 10-for-26. Connecticut’s starters Thomas, Chiney Ogwumike and bench guard Alex Bentley poured in a meaningful performance. The trinity trickled in 36 points in the win along with Thomas’ team-high 25 points. Atkins had a team-high of 14 points for the Mystics.

Washington missed Delle Donne’s game average of 16 points and seven rebounds. The Mystics were outscored by 24 and outrebounded 31-22. Her veteran leadership is key to the team’s flow and presence. For the other four starters, their shooting percentages damaged the fluidity of ball movement while the Sun kept momentum flowing within their team.

Guard Kristi Toliver, who had four double-digit games in their last five match ups, only contributed six points for Washington. Currie served as the veteran leader, coming came off the bench to contribute 10 points and five rebounds.

Even with Delle Donne present, ball movement and shooting efficiency are two issues holding Washington from their full power. As the season rolls on, they stand in second place to the Sun, waiting for a rematch set for June 13 at Connecticut.

“It makes a big difference when you’re missing your best player who is an MVP-type player,” Thibault said regarding Delle Donne’s impact. “That hurts us, but that can’t be the only reason we played like we did. Every team goes through that. We proved this past week – she didn’t play the second half of the Minnesota game, she didn’t play in Seattle or Phoenix, and we played great basketball. Something was missing today.”

The Mystics cannot hang their heads down for long. Up next are top tier teams. Washington will face Minnesota Connecticut and Los Angeles in their next three games.

The game time for the June 7 game against Minnesota was changed from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m. The change was made to accommodate fans of fellow city team the Washington Capitals for a watch party at Capital One Arena as the Capitals play in game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game Notes

  • Points in the Paint: Sun: 26 Mystics: 32
  • 2nd Chance Points: Sun: 18 Mystics: 10
  • Fastbreak Points: Sun: 13 Mystics: 4
  • Biggest Lead: Sun: 27 Mystics: 0
  • Technical Fouls: – Mystics: Thomas 4:06 4th Sun: Thomas 5:25 3rd, Jones 4:06 4th
  • Attendance: 5,176

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