It was set to be a big time matchup last night in Washington D.C. as the Washington Mystics hosted the red hot Los Angeles Sparks. The visitors were riding a thee game win streak and were 7-2 in their last nine games. Washington had just rebounded from a road loss in Chicago by beating the New York Liberty this past Sunday. That is why most expected this to be a great game between two teams fighting for playoff seeding, not to mention their season series was tied at one a piece.
Instead, the Mystics were unruly hosts and ran through and past the visiting Sparks. A dominant defensive effort from the start, coupled with their efficient, yet high octane offense was just too much for LA. The home team never cooled off and they held the Sparks to 34% shooting from the floor and 14% from beyond the arc for the game. It was their finest defensive performance of the season to this point, previously only having stretches and spurts of good defense. This was different as they were able to maintain that level of defense until the job was essentially done.
Powers scored 20 points to lead Washington, Natasha Cloud scored 15 points, and Elena Delle Donne had 14 points on just six shot attempts. The Mystics had five different players score in double figures. Aerial Powers had a pregame snafu that resulted in her coming off the bench. She admittedly had on the wrong tights or leggings, so she ran to the locker room to address it. Which meant Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had to start in her place.
Candace Parker led Los Angeles with 12 points, Chelsea Gray also had 12 points, and Nneka Ogwumiike scored 10 points.
Washington's defense in the half court was tremendous, once they secured a rebound they were out and running. The Sparks tried to go to a big lineup to slow things up a bit, but the Mystics "bigs" are a bit different as all are very capable of running and spreading the floor. To give an idea on the level of defense played by the home team, with 6:30 left in the half, the Sparks had yet to score a point in the second quarter.
The Mystics closed the first half strong, one of the biggest plays that came to mind was an example of great ball movement. Washington swung it around and penetration led to a drop off pass to LaToya Sanders under the rim. Rather than shoot the ball she swung it back to a wide open Delle Donne. Elena had a defender run at her, so she put the ball on the floor, then hit a step back three and the building erupted. Depth is always a key for Washington and it was on full display as their bench held an 18-4 edge at the half. Playing a key part in the 54-37 lead.
The Sparks attacked the basket looking to draw contact and get to the line at the start of the third quarter. There was also a defensive change, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was assigned to Natasha Cloud. The Sparks seemed to be intent on disrupting Washington's offense a bit, the problem being that multiple people can handle the ball for the Mystics.
Outside of the foul line, the Sparks still struggled to get anything going on the offensive end in the third quarter. With 5:40 left in the period, the Mystics got a stop and Cloud through the ball ahead to Powers on the break. Aerial caught the ball inside the three point line, she took a dribble to step back behind the arc and let it fly. Once the shot fell through the net, the crowd went crazy and Powers was overrun with emotion.
It was one of those types of thee pointers the Warriors make, the type that lets you know it's over, it's time to go home. The Mystics held the Sparks to just 10 points in the third period, outscoring them 27-10.
From there, Washington's bench mob came in and finished the game, at one point they led by as many as 40 points. It was a dominating win by the Washington Mystics, they remain atop the league with a record of 22-8. They have four more games left in the regular season, two on the road and two at home. The first of the two road games is Saturday against the Dallas Wings.
Prior to last night's game, Mystics guard Natasha Cloud was awarded the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award. The award is named after Hall of Famer and WNBA legend Dawn Staley. Annually recognizes a player who reflect's Staley's spirt, leadership, charitable efforts, love for the game and inspirational presence in the community.