Delle Donne returns, balanced attack helps Washington force Game 5
The Washington Mystics haven't been their best selves during this series with the Atlanta Dream. Losing Elena Delle Donne due to an injury certainly didn't help, but they found their stride as she returned for a Game 4 win. ''No one had to be Superwoman, but we just needed to get a little bit smarter and get back to getting stops" said the 2015 Regular Season Most Valuable Player. Her return to the lineup allowed the Mystics to regain their rhythm on both ends of the floor. It showed on the defensive end early, her length allowed Latoya Sanders to do what she does best and Washington didn't have to play those four guard lineups like in Game 3. The Mystics hadn't shot well, but they hit 12 of their 26 attempts from behind the arc in the 97-76 win.
Kristi Toliver and Natasha Cloud rebounded from poor outings, scoring a combined 35 points (Toliver had 22). Outside of the turnovers, the Mystics starting backcourt outperformed their Atlanta counterparts. All five starters were in double-figures for Washington, all but one of the Dream starters scored in double-figures. Brittany Sykes, Jessica Breland, Renee Montgomery, and Tiffany Hayes all scored 12 points. Elena had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Atkins chipped in with 19 points as well.
Washington jumped out to a 20-12 lead in the first quarter, fueled by their defense. One of the things that was clearly different from past games was how the Mystics guards kept their dribble alive and got downhill. They attacked the basket at every given opportunity, much different than in past games where they'd settle for jumpers. Kristi Toliver and Ariel Atkins (pictured above) got out to quick starts, scoring six points a piece.
Atlanta found themselves down by 14 at one point in the second quarter. Then they settled down on the defensive end, they took the life out of Washington's offense and got out in transition. One of those stops resulted in a triple from Tiffany Hayes, which cut their deficit to just six. Rookie Monique Billings was outstanding for the Dream in this quarter, she was able to put pressure on the Washington defense by attacking off the bounce. She drew fouls and got to the line five times, scoring eight points in the period. It was inevitable that Atlanta was going to make a run, the difference in this game was Delle Donne was there to score timely baskets. She got a stop on one end and Natasha Cloud literally walked her into a pull-up jumper, that extended the lead to 10 and Washington was able to take a nine point lead into the half. Foul trouble started to play a factor for both teams as Sanders, Breland, and Sykes all had three personal fouls.
Natasha Cloud started the second half off with a triple, but then foul trouble hit the Mystics. Atkins had two fouls at the half, but picked up two quick ones and she had to be taken out the game. Washington would extend their lead to 14 for the second time that night, but Atlanta used their shut down defense to get right back into it. Renee Montgomery hit a pair of three pointers, one of which cut the deficit to five. Delle Donne would again give her team some breathing room, as she knocked down a triple off a pick-and-pop. LaToya Sanders picked up her fifth foul with 28.6 seconds left in the quarter, the Mystics would take an 11 point lead into the fourth.
With Sanders in foul trouble, Coach Thibault leaned on their second round pick as she played eight minutes in the fourth quarter. She gives Washington a different type of big, she's strong and mobile. Her biggest contributions were were on the offensive glass, two of those rebounds resulted in open three pointers for the Mystics and it nearly blew the roof off the Charles Smith Center. Her fellow rookie closed the game strong, Atkins scored nine points in the period. The Dream struggled to find a flow offensively, shooting just 38.5%. Washington outscored Atlanta 53-41 in the second half, a big reason as to why they'll be in Atlanta on Tuesday for Game 5.
Gravity. This term is used often when talking about players that affect how a defense moves. If this player has enough gravity, simple actions cause big reactions from the defense. Elena obviously wasn't 100% but her being on the floor means the Dream had to account for her. Renee Montgomery alluded to EDD sucking in the Atlanta defense, that played a role in getting her teammates quality looks and they knocked them down. In the third quarter, Washington ran some screen/roll with EDD as the screener and it really put the Dream defense in a bind.
TRP. She doesn't get nearly enough credit for her impact on the floor. Obviously the first thing anyone thinks of when she comes to mind is her stellar defense, but she brings a much needed calm to the floor on the offensive end. At times this game she was the primary ball handler, initiating the offense. She also had 11 points and 5 rebounds, her minutes seem to go up any time Washington hits adversity. In a conversation with her near the end of the season, she talked about the importance of staying ready and being a pro. Her being an option off the bench for Washington is certainly a luxury.
Rookies. Atkins has been getting praise all season and it's very well deserved. She seemed to adjust to the way the Dream have been guarding her which is forcing her to her right. As a lefty, she did a much better job of taking her time and attacking off the dribble in this contest. Her ability to put the ball on the floor definitely complements her three point shooting. Myisha hasn't played consistently all season, but her number was called in the last two games. She gives Washington a much needed physicality in the front court, if she can minimize the mental mistakes(silly fouls), she can continue to give her team quality minutes.
Sense of urgency. The Mystics played with the appropriate amount of urgency from the start of the game, Atlanta made runs but Washington did a good job competing on the defensive end. It's something that needs to continue as they enter a winner take all Game 5.
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