Cloud's game winner lifts Mystics over Sparks
The Washington Mystics capped their eight consecutive win in dramatic fashion. The game was tied at 67 with 3.8 seconds left, the Mystics ran a play but their first option was taken away. That wasn't a shock as no team in their right mind is going to let the ball get to either Elena Delle Donne or Kristi Toliver in that situation. The ball was in-bounded to Natasha Cloud (pictured above), she had been struggling all game with her shot. Up to that point, Washington's starting point guard was just 1-of-10 from the floor. Ruffin-Pratt in-bounded the ball to Natasha, she drove right with Alana Bear right on her hip. She used a behind-the-back dribble to try and create some space. Beard closed that space quickly, but not before Cloud could get a shot off. The ball fell through the net as Cloud was on the floor, Capital One Arena erupted as Washington got the 69-67 win over the Los Angeles Sparks.
Elena Delle Donne led all scorers with 16 points, Kristi Toliver had 12, while LaToya Sanders and Aerial Powers had 10 points a piece for Washington. The Sparks were led by Riquna Williams and her 14 points, Candace Parker added 13 (11 in the first half), while Chelsea Gray and Nneka Ogwumike had 10 each. In a conversation with Tierra Ruffin-Pratt after the game, she agreed that this type of game would be one in which one of the previous iterations of the Mystics would have given away. That speaks volumes to the mentality of this group, their composure and a glimpse as to why they've been able to string these wins together as of late. Near the end of the first half, Elena Delle Donne shot a fall-away shot with Candace Parker defending her. Apparently Parker stepped over Elena, as in the Iverson-Lue type step over. Tianna Hawkins took an exception to that and moved Candace away from her fallen teammate. A brief skirmish ensued shortly thereafter, but it only resulted in a double-technical issued to Parker and Hawkins.
Los Angeles started the third quarter fast, similar to how they started the game. A 7-0 run allowed them to regain control of the game, the Mystics had rallied from 13 down in the first quarter to even things at 40 by halftime. Thibault had shortened his rotation as of late, with rookie Ariel Atkins out with a hip injury, Washington needed production from their second unit and they got it. The trio of Hawkins, Ruffin-Pratt, and Aerial Powers combined for 25 points and 14 rebounds. Throw in four steals and two blocks, the trio changed the game and gave Washington a spark when they needed it most. When that trio hit the floor in the third quarter, the tide of the game turned in Washington's favor. The biggest area in which they impacted the game was defensively and on the glass. The Mystics were able to close the gap to four heading into the fourth quarter. The only player Washington couldn't slow down in the second half was Riquna Williams, she scored 12 of her 14 points in that stretch. Defense. The Mystics struggled at times throughout the game, but they did well when it mattered most. Los Angeles shot 25% in the fourth quarter, 20% from beyond the arc. Tianna Hawkins had a big block with 6:58 left in the game, TRP got in the passing lanes and an uncontested layup cut the deficit to 2 with 5:51 to go. After missing a jump shot, Cloud found a cutting Delle Donne for two which cut the deficit to three. After Essence Carson missed a contested three pointer, Delle Donne found Powers for three, that tied things up at 67 with 3:21 left in the game. It was a good pass from EDD who timed the pass perfectly as the Sparks were sending a double. The Mystics appeared to take a two point lead as Delle Donne tried to euro-step a defender, but the officials called the foul on her instead. The next three minutes consisted of tough shot attempts against good defense, from both teams. Washington forced a shot clock violation and the Sparks forced a couple of turnovers. The Mystics had a couple of chances to go ahead, but Powers turned it over twice on pivotal possessions. Their defense held and Los Angeles couldn't capitalize on it, Parker missed a three and Williams got the rebound to extend the possession. After a foul from Toliver, the Sparks took the ball out and their possession resulted in a missed 20 footer from Ogwumike. Washington got the ball back with 18.1 seconds, Toliver was fouled with 3.8 left. The Mystics wrap up their regular season on Sunday in Minnesota against the Lynx.
Observations Mental Toughness. This Mystics team showed that tonight, against a championship caliber team they found a way to win despite not playing their best. They didn't lose their composure after the skirmish to end the first half either, instead it was the Sparks that didn't seem quite the same. This team has shown their ability to endure tough stretches during this win streak. X-Factor. Our Cardell Dudley hit the nail on the head during the game when he tweeted that Williams was the Sparks x-factor against Washington. She averages 6.8 points a game and scored 14 against Washington, 12 of which came in the second half. Definitely a good showing from her and an example of just how talented that team is. Cloud. The wait has been well worth it, Washington's point guard continues to have a good season. She didn't shoot it well against the Sparks, but as usual she impacted the game in other ways. Her vision doesn't get talked about nearly enough, on several occasions in the game she made passes that resulted in wide open layups. The confidence to take that shot knowing the kind of shooting night she was having speaks volumes to the work she put in during the offseason. Her play is a big reason Washington's streaking right now. That "Dawg". Every team needs players that fit this mold, the type that excel in chippy games and don't know how to quit. Fierce competitors and three of them come off the bench for Washington. The trio of Aerial Powers, Tianna Hawkins, and TRP really changed this game. The Mystics don't rally without them, they made momentum changing plays and their willingness to hit the glass is why Washington was able to play Los Angeles even on the boards. After shooting 41% from the floor and 50% from three, the Sparks were held to 33% from the floor and 27% from deep. Those three played a big role in that happening.
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