Many considered the 2019 Washington Mystics offense one of the best in WNBA history. Clearly, they were ahead of themselves as the 2020 Mystics squad has come out firing to start the year.
No statement is clearer than what Washington did to the presumed title-favorite Seattle Storm on Thursday night. The Mystics throttled a loaded Seattle with two -- arguably three -- MVP-caliber players, and put the game on cruise control by midway through the third quarter.
And the Mystics did it as they did in the first two games, with a roster missing four of last season’s starters. The Mystics are now an impressive 3-0 after an 89-71 waltz over the Storm.
Their secret? A high-powered 3-point game.
“We’re not going to overpower people in the post every night,” head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. “But we do move the basketball, we do force people to help and we’re willing to make the extra pass.”
The Mystics offense was unforgiving from the opening tip. Washington came out firing on all cylinders from behind the arc and finished the contest with an outstanding 15-for-32 shooting night from long range. Ariel Atkins – who had a game-high 22 points – made five of those threes and newcomer Leilani Mitchell added four.
Without the interior presence of LaToya Sanders and trade acquisition Tina Charles this year, Thibault stressed the importance of the Mystics 3-point game all training camp. Shortening up possessions for high-quality shots, constant ball movement and pushing the tempo was how they were going to be successful.
It took three games into the season, even though the other two wins were just as impressive, but it was finally on full display.
Aerial Powers was the one who, again, provided the offensive early spark with a knockdown three from the wing. On the next possession, Myisha Hines-Allen forced a turnover and then Atkins hit a corner trey. Less than two minutes later Leilani Mitchell had a three of her own and before you could blink the lead was up to 15-4.
Washington went into the halftime break making 10 of their first 16 3-point attempts, on pace to break their own record last season.
They were shooting well, passing well (25 assists on 33 buckets for the night) and honestly unstoppable at times.
“When coach came into the locker room (postgame), he was like ‘we’re finally shooting threes,’” Hines-Allen told reporters in a Zoom meeting. “We’re trying to not pass up threes, not pass up our shots. It showed today that we’re being more comfortable and getting more confident in our shots and taking them.”
That’s not good news for the rest of the league if they are “finally” taking threes. The Mystics’ 89 points were a season-low, and quite frankly that total should have been a lot higher had the offense not gone ice cold in the final stanza.
Through the first three games Washington has scored 284 points (94.7 ppg), which is the third-highest mark to start a season in WNBA history according to ESPN. That's in addition to the team's 49.1% shooting clip and 41.9% mark from deep. Emma Meesseman said that the Mystics are making progress in that aspect every game.
But while the offense is so good, it is really starting on the defensive end of the floor.
“I know we hit shots today, but the exciting part for me is the defensive part,” Atkins said. I think that really shows how a team can gel defensively on how well they can communicate.”
The veteran-laden Storm turned the ball over 18 times resulting in 20 points for the Mystics. Neither Breanna Stewart (15 points on 35.7% shooting) or Sue Bird (five points at 28.6%) could find a hot hand.
There’s a lot of on-ball pressure and a ton of help on the strong side, leading to turnovers. That intensity propels Washington to an unforgiving offensive approach and can end a game early. As teams are still figuring out how to play together, Washington is mopping them up on the floor.
If that is not worrisome enough, Meesseman has yet to go off this season. It’s been her supporting cast turned All-Stars that’s carried the blue and red banner so far.
“It’s wonderful that we’ve played three games and three times it was someone else having an amazing game,” Meesseman said postgame. I don’t think a lot of teams have that chance. I hope we can keep playing like that and just keep moving the ball.”
That breakout is coming, but so far has not been necessary.
Whether fair or not, many wrote off the Mystics to defend their title this year. Seattle was supposed to be the dominant behemoth that took their place. Perhaps after this shellacking of the ‘favorite,’ it is time for a new team to emerge as the new favorite in the WNBA season… and start with the defending champion. They were good last year, but they are showing they have the potential to be just as dominant once again.
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