Finally, the 2020 WNBA season got to see some form of "Playoff Emma." Wednesday night, it was Emma Meesseman’s turn to light up the scoreboard against the Las Vegas Aces. But, her effort and 24 points was for naught. The rest of the Washington Mystics' offense went ice cold in an 83-77 loss in Bradenton, Fla.
Meesseman expressed confidence, was aggressive and showed spurts that were familiar of her incredible WNBA Finals performance a year ago. Something that, frankly, has been noticeably absent from the Mystics' first four games of the season. Her 24 points came on a 10-for-23 shooting night, during which she made her first three 3-pointers of the season. She also made it a double-double with 13 rebounds to match her career high.
But the moment head coach Mike Thibault took Meesseman off the floor, the team struggled. Without Meesseman, the team was minus-nine. In fact, the Mystics struggled even when she was on it (minus Myisha Hines-Allen's 18 points).
Take away those two and the rest of the team mustered 35 points a mere 35% shooting night and 22% clip from behind the arc. Washington also only grabbed seven rebounds outside of that duo.
"We got beat by a good team. We didn't execute as well. The biggest difference to me is pretty obvious, 30-11 free throw attempts," Thibault said postgame.
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The Aces play a physical brand of basketball. It tripped the Mystics up once in the postseason a year ago in a pretty glaring fashion. This time it did so again in more ways than just a free throw discrepancy.
After a hot first quarter from Meesseman, where she scored half of her point total, Las Vegas switched up its defensive approach. From that point, it was rare for Washington to not receive full-court pressure, even in transition. That style shut down the Mystics' fastbreak game and certainly their halfcourt offense. Culminating in the final quarter, Washington only produced 18 points as the game slipped away.
Hines-Allen and Meesseman were ultimately the only two able to slice through the Aces' defense. For Hines-Allen it was her fourth game with 15 or more points on the season. For Meesseman it was her first.
"I'm happy she was aggressive and looking to shoot. Vegas seems to bring out the best in her," Thibault said. "It was good to see her be aggressive, we're going to need that and we're just figuring out things as we go."
Last year’s WNBA Finals MVP struggled, by her standards, in the first four games of the season. Teams double-teamed her, she struggled to find her shot and she often passed up scoring opportunities for her teammates. She was only averaging 11.3 points, was shooting 44% from the floor and had yet to make a 3-pointer.
Expectations were high for Meesseman entering the year. Being the biggest star remaining on a shorthanded Washington roster put the target on her after a career-year in 2019.
Despite her struggles shooting, she had found ways to have an impact on the game. Entering Wednesday’s contest with 5.3 assists a night, she had the league’s fifth-best mark. An influence that Thibault was happy to see as he anticipated Meesseman would generate a lot of attention. Still, after the team’s first loss, he just wanted to see her shoot more.
"Emma's the type of player if she's not making shots, she gets down on herself," Leilani Mitchell said postgame. "We just all happen to really around each other. It happens to people and I was super proud of her today for being aggressive and assertive out there."
That breakthrough comes in Washington's second loss of the season, moving the team to 3-2. A once potent offense has struggled in back-to-back games in two different ways. Good news is Wednesday night the Mystics finally got back to as much of full strength as they can be with Tianna Hawkins returning to the lineup. A back injury in the opening game sidelined her and reduced the 10-person roster to nine.
Definitely a welcomed relief because a two-game losing streak makes up for one-ninth of the season.
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