Hawkins, Atkins combine for 32 as Mystics rally to beat Aces
For the second consecutive game, the Washington Mystics got a win. They start the season 2-0 after a 75-70 come from behind victory over the shorthanded Las Vegas Aces. An abysmal offensive performance in the first half put Washington in a hole, turning the ball over at a high rate didn't help things either. A strong performance from the Washington bench helped turned things around, allowing them to withstand a balanced Aces attack. A'ja Wilson had 16 points and eight rebounds, Nia Coffey chipped in with 14 points, and Tamera Young had 13. The Mystics got a huge first half out of Elena Delle Donne, she scored 17 of the team's 23 points. Tianna Hawkins (Pictured Above) and Ariel Atkins scored a combined 32 off the bench, keying the second half run that eventually led to a win.
The Mystics couldn't do anything right to start the game. When they did get open shots, it felt as if everyone was trying to make an extra pass that just wasn't there. Las Vegas took advantage of it and scored seven points off of the seven turnovers, that' doesn't mean the Aces shot it well either. They just shot better than Washington, they shot 36.8% but the big difference was that they didn't take any three point attempts. The Mystics on the other hand, shot 2-of-16 from the floor and missed all seven of their three point attempts.
Jaime Nared had a good second quarter for the Aces, she found herself open quite a bit and made Washington pay. Nearly all of her looks were clean as the Mystics were helping on post touches and they couldn't make up the ground to recover and contest her shots. Nared scored seven of the team's 16 points in the period. One of the things that helped the Mystics slow down some of the points in the paint or at least the touches was the job Monique Currie and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt did of digging down to get hands on the ball. Despite shooting 20% for an entire half, the Mystics found themselves down just single digits at the break.
Las Vegas led 31-23 at the half, the biggest reason being that they scored points on Washington's turnovers and the Mystics didn't return the favor. Both teams had 11 turnovers, but Washington only scored two points off them while Las Vegas scored 12.
The Mystics found life in the third period and it came courtesy of their second unit. Rookies Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen seemed to embrace the physical play from Las Vegas. Both of them made their presence felt on the defensive end, by doing the little things like boxing out and tracking down loose balls. From a plus-minus standpoint, Washington excelled when the trio of Natasha Cloud, Hawkins, and Atkins were on the floor. It started slow, but a quick 5-0 run from Hawkins helped close the gap. Delle Donne scored off a nice move, she up-faked her defender into the air before using a euro-step to evade the big at the rim to finish. Tamera Young seemed to only score timely baskets, anytime the Aces were on their heels, she came up with a basket. She pushed the lead back to five at one point, her score ending a Mystics run. The Aces had chances to extend their lead, but they struggled to convert from the foul line.
None of the Mystics players could identify a single play or the moment in which they felt the tide officially turn their way in the third quarter. Still, it's hard to not think of when Atkins stuck with a play after Washington turned it over. Las Vegas got the ball and the rookie stole it and then converted it into a quick two points. She then ran down a loose ball and saved it before it went out of bounds, that possession would result in another Washington transition basket. Washington tied things up at 44 late in the period when Cloud drove to the lane and finished via a circus layup in traffic. She was fouled on the play and made the ensuing free throw, a solid defensive possession kept Las Vegas from taking the lead as time ran out.
Hawkins and Atkins (Pictured Above) helped open the floor up for Washington, the Las Vegas defense wasn't in position to help the helper with them knocking down triples. Cloud did a good job of operating the pick-and-pop with Hawkins and the team as a whole continued to find Atkins in the corner. The rookie was doing a great job of running baseline and the passes found her in rhythm and she knocked the shots down. That trio (Cloud, Atkins, Hawkins) nearly played the entire quarter, the only one who didn't play all ten minutes was Hawkins and she played all but 15 seconds of it.
With the Mystics leading 69-67, Delle Donne scored a tough basket over Wilson. She got the rookie to go one direction with a fake, before pivoting the other and knocking down a leaner. A'ja would respond on the opposite end, a teammate missed a shot but Wilson got the rebound and converted the putback while being fouled. She converted the old fashioned three point play and cut the Las Vegas deficit to one with 30.5 seconds left.
Washington put the ball in Cloud's hands after the timeout, she wasted clock before using a Delle Donne screen. Natasha knew that Elena's defender wasn't going to leave her and she turned the corner aggressively. Nia Coffey was in a position to help, but with Atkins having knocked down two corner threes already, she went to take that option away. Cloud's only resistance was Wilson, but the rookie was coming over to help a bit late as she was guarding Delle Donne and couldn't make up the ground. The Mystics played good defense on the following Aces possession, resulting in a shot by Carolyn Swords. It definitely didn't look like something Coach Laimbeer drew up, Hawkins corralled the rebound and was fouled. She hit both free throws to ice the game for Washington.
The Mystics got 41 points from their bench and that was the difference in this one, Las Vegas only got 13 from their bench. Credit should also go to Coach Thibault for trusting that trio to close the game out alongside Delle Donne and Toliver. Washington obviously has a ways to go on the offensive end, but it's fair to wonder if they would have won two games like this last season when shooting poorly. Up next, the Mystics travel to Indiana to face the Fever before returning home to host the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday.
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