It was a big night, the top of the Eastern Conference was up for grabs as both the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun came into last night's game with 8-5 records. Washington would take advantage of the opportunity, starting this week's three game homestand with a 92-80 win. After a slow start, the Mystics used their defense to fuel a third quarter run that allowed them to take control of the game. Connecticut fought back, closing the gap to six before Washington shut the door to take a one game lead in the Eastern Conference. The Mystics are now 9-5 on the season, they're the only team in the East to have a road record over .500 (4-2). In terms of conference play, Washington holds an impressive 6-1 record. Four of the five starters for the Mystics scored in double figures, with Elena Delle Donne (pictured above) leading the way with 25. Connecticut was led by Chiney Ogwumike's 17 point, 11 rebound effort.
The Sun started strong, racing out to a 14-6 lead. Jazmine Thomas and Ogwumike had big quarters, scoring 10 and 8 points respectively. Washington started to find their footing in the second quarter, at least from an offensive standpoint. Ariel Atkins (13 points, 2 steals) converted a physical and-1 opportunity midway through the quarter to cut the deficit to seven, but the Sun didn't relinquish the lead. Morgan Tuck gave Connecticut good minutes in that quarter, coming off the bench to score six quick points. The Mystics would cut the deficit to two late in the half after a LaToya Sanders offensive rebound resulted in a triple from Kristi Toliver (14 points). Alex Bentley took a lot of energy out of Capital One Arena when she hit a tough runner in traffic to beat the horn to end the half. That gave the Sun a three point lead at the break.
The third quarter is where everything changed, Washington is one of the better defensive teams in the league when they're competing on that end. In the first half, they didn't really seem to commit to it. Delle Donne saying after the game that they "missed coverage's" when defending the pick-and-roll. That wasn't the case in the third though, Washington's ball pressure stepped up and their defense stifled the Sun offense. The Mystics were really working on that end of the floor and it allowed them to get out and run. Atkins (Below) found LaToya Sanders for a layup in transition to give Washington a 58-57 lead with 4:53 left in the quarter. That was the second basket in a 16-0 run, capped off by Toliver splitting a pair of free throws to give the Mystics a 70-57 lead.
Atkins is playing hellacious defense. Denied Ogwumike in the post, then ran out to the opposite corner to defend Williams and save a wide open three pointer. Not your average rookie. 63-57 Mystics.
— Finest Magazine (@FinestMagazine) June 27, 2018
The Sun cut the deficit to nine with 7.7 seconds left in the period, but Tierra Ruffin-Pratt drew an offensive foul on Ogwumike to give Washington the ball back. Ruffin-Pratt then missed a jumper on the ensuing possession, but Myisha Hines-Allen got the offensive rebound and put back. Monique Currie would steal the inbounds pass after Myisha's basket and convert the layup before the horn sounded. That quick spurt, gave Washington a 15 point lead heading into the fourth.
To no one's surprise, things got close midway through the fourth. The Sun didn't back down and they cut the deficit to just six points after a pull-up jumper from Alex Bentley (13 points) fell through the net. Once again Washington buckled down on defense, holding Connecticut scoreless over the next three minutes. Sanders really changed things for the Mystics, with her being a bit more offensive minded, the Sun couldn't send her defender to provide help. Which is something teams typically do with the defender that's guarding her or Natasha Cloud when they don't have the ball. LaToya's season high 18 points came at a perfect time and she did a tremendous job fighting on the glass, finishing with three offensive rebounds. For Washington, it was good to see them execute offensively down the stretch as well.
The challenge going forward is bringing that intense level of defense for more than a half or a few quarters.
The Mystics host the New York Liberty on Thursday, the Liberty are coming into that matchup with a 4-9 record.