Ariel Atkins finding shooting form may turn tide in playoff push

/ by Tyler Byrum
Presented By Sandy Spring Bank

WASHINGTON – There are no moral victories for the Washington Mystics at this point in the season. But in a blowout loss, the least the Mystics could get is one of their best players finally finding her shot after a putrid stretch of games.

Olympian Ariel Atkins was one of the lone bright spots of an 85-75 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday where the final score was a lot closer than the pace of the game. Her 16 points were the second-most on the team, but more importantly, her efficiency that has been missing since coming back from the Olympic break was back.

Atkins didn’t take a shot until the start of the second quarter at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. A tightly contested three from the wing to end a 6-0 scoring run for the Sun. Perhaps some of that was hesitation after the last few games. Across the previous five contests, she was shooting 23% from the field and 15% from 3-point range. One game she went 0-for-9 from deep, another she was 0-for-6 from the field.

Her four 3-pointers against the Sun matched all the threes she made in those five games. Total, she shot 6-for-8 from the field and 4-for-6 from deep. 

“It felt good to see the ball go in,” Atkins said postgame. “Sometimes you got to shoot through stuff. And then you have stuff that you're doing with your body and thinking too much and there's a lot that goes into it. But that's when my teammates tell me to keep shooting and I go 0-for-14, 0-for-10, they constantly tell me just stay aggressive. So tonight, I feel like I should have been more aggressive for us. I can't take it back, but it felt good to see the ball go in.”

More shooting from Atkins wouldn’t have turned the tide of the game. Connecticut went up by 20 points in the third quarter and cruised for the remainder of the contest. A few more shots Atkins' way wouldn’t have changed the plus-18 rebound margin for the Sun or the zero second-chance points for Washington.

Connecticut is the best team in the league and without the two best Mystics on the roster, it would be a herculean task for Washington to get the upset.

“I mean we tried to get her going,” head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. “I still would like to get her more, four or five more shots. But it's a good step forward from the last few games.”

As the Mystics navigate the next few weeks of a playoff hunt, there’s going to need to be more nights like this from Atkins. If not, there’s not likely a path where Washington makes the playoffs. Tina Charles is fighting a hip injury that has sidelined her for three games and likely two more at the least. Elena Delle Donne came back for two and a half games after her back recovery. Now, she’s on day-to-day monitoring on if she’s going to suit up and play.

That leaves Atkins as the next scoring option to step up. On the year, she’s averaged 15.4 points per contest entering Tuesday night, the second-most on the team behind the league-leading Charles (25.4 ppg).

But in the five games where Atkins struggled, Washington went 2-3. All three of the losses were winnable. Each coming by way of a second-half collapse. Charles played some of them, so did Delle Donne, but them alone is not enough for a team that sometimes can't find scoring depth.

Myisha Hines-Allen has had some good scoring games this year, so has Natasha Cloud on occasion, but no one with the level of impact on a nightly basis like Atkins. Her game comes at all three levels and is constantly a threat to score.

Hopefully, help comes in the form of MVPs for a 10-16 team currently tied with New York for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. But without them, Atkins must be the shooter that takes a step forward and deliver performances that will this team to victory.

“I think if my shot takes me out of the game, then I can't consider myself a good basketball player,” Atkins said.