Defense and Depth. They're the two things that make this iteration of the Mystics dangerous. It's nearly public knowledge at this point that the Washington Mystics seldom have issues putting the ball in the basket, but they become something else entirely when they're locked in on the defensive end. The job they did defensively, primarily in the second half is a huge reason why they were able to complete the sweep of this three game home stand capped off by last night's 88-59 win over the Seattle Storm.
Aerial Powers led Washington with 16 points, Elena Delle Donne and Tianna Hawkins (pictured above) had 14 a piece. Natasha Howard had a huge game for the Storm, scoring 24 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
It was very clear early in the game that Seattle didn't want Washington's MVP candidate to get going. They routinely doubled her and swarmed her to get the ball out of her hands. While she's been in this zone recently, she hasn't forced the issue and didn't in this case either. That attention opened things up for teammates and the Mystics have more than enough players who don't have an issue putting the ball in the basket.
LaToya Sanders talked about how consistent Washington's bench has been all year following the game. No further proof needed than the start of the second quarter when the Mystics were down seven. Tianna Hawkins went on a personal 9-2 run to even things up at 25 and the crowd loved every bit of it. The game truly changed when Hawkins, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, and Myisha Hines-Allen came in. They brought a necessary level of physicality to the game, Tianna was extremely aggressive on the offensive end by scoring 14 points in that first half.
Despite outscoring the Storm 22-12 in the second quarter, Washington led by just three at the half. At that point, Elena Delle Donne had just six points and taken three shots. Washington's starters had scored 18 points while their bench had 20. Howard scored Seattle's first eight points of the game and was up to 15 points by the break.
It looked as if the Mystics would pull away in the third quarter, their hot start helped them build a 15 point lead with 2:37 left in the period. However, championship pedigree wouldn't let the Storm go out quietly. Natasha Howard scored seven of her nine points that quarter during that closing stretch. The best shot she hit may have been a step back triple on the left wing that cut the deficit to 10. A pair of free throws from Crystal Langhorne further cut the deficit to eight as the teams headed to the fourth.
Washington put on a clinic on the defensive end in the final period. They were swarming and rotating, effectively shutting down the Storm offense. It was a 29-8 run, that was the entirety of the fourth quarter. Seattle never got closer than the 10 points, Washington held them to 23% shooting from the floor. While the Mystics were getting stops, they weren't facing much resistance on the other end. They were rolling, knocking down 10 of their 12 shots in the period and all three of their attempts from deep, along with all six shots from the charity stripe.
Of those eight points from Seattle, not one was scored by a starter. The Mystics outscored Seattle 50-24 in the second half, holding the visitors to just 28% shooting from the floor and 18% from deep. Their defense was the difference in this game along with their depth.
Washington got 35 points from their bench, Seattle got 14 from theirs. That depth is one of their weapons and has been for most of the season. Coach Thibault has several options he can go to in that group with Meesseman, Hawkins, Walker-Kimbrough and Hines-Allen. Their contributions don't always come in the form of points either, physicality and versatility allow them to mesh with any combination of starters at times. In cases like last night, that group can dictate the terms at which the game will be played once they enter. Hawkins made a good point following the game, she talked about the "insight" that group gets by having the chance to watch the game before they enter. So they know what needs to be done and how to best help their team.
It's been said here quite a few times, but this team is going to go as far as their defense takes them. At the moment, it has them atop the league at 18-7. Up next, the Mystics travel to Minnesota before returning home Sunday to host the Indiana Fever.