It was not a must-win for the Washington Mystics on Thursday night, but it was about as close to it as could be when they faced the Los Angeles Sparks. And in the biggest moment of the team’s season, Washington got another complete performance from their best player this season, Myisha Hines-Allen.
While she’s been leading the charge throughout the season, and especially down the stretch, this time she was the one that delivered in crunch time.
Hanging on to a one-point lead after the offense had gone stagnant, the Sparks appeared to be wrestling back control of the contest.
But after an offensive rebound gathered by Leilani Mitchell, Hines-Allen was left open at the top of the key during the broken play. A slight hesitation and Hines-Allen drained it over MVP candidate Candace Parker. Next possession there was no hesitation, but the same result, Mitchell finding the third-year player for a straightaway three.
Suddenly Washington was in firm control leading by five points with 56 seconds left.
Hines-Allen would finish with a game-high 30 points, the second-highest total of her career, on 13-for-20 shooting. It was her sixth 20-plus point output of the season and fourth straight with 19 or more points.
“This is crazy. Everybody's been talking about my Myisha Hines-Allen as Most Improved Player. I think the conversation should change to whether she should be considered as an all-league player this summer,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. “And I'm dead serious about that because she has stepped up against the biggest and best teams and matched them toe-to-toe and outplayed a bunch of them and I just I'm really proud of what she did tonight.”
The contributions from the contender for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award that was not just in the final moments. She was the lone bright spot in the offense that regularly struggled to hit shots. At halftime she had 17 of the Mystics 39 points. By the end of the game she had 30 of the team’s 80.
Other games she’s credited the bubble’s hairstylist, 'Candi with an i', and Emma Meesseman’s pregame relaxation method for her performances. This time it was Ariel Atkins who provided a hair touchup.
“Shout out to Ariel Atkins,” Hines-Allen said postgame. “She touched me up, I mean you can't really tell right now because she's not a professional like Candi with an i, but a touch me up. Got my front right. So I was feeling good, my [dreadlocks] are tight. They feel new. So, it was Ariel I Atkins I'm giving it to her.”
The Louisville product’s infectious energy and persistence to call for the ball fueled her teammates. Each player traded a big shot throughout the contest or snatched a crucial steal on the defensive end.
Even though Leilani Mitchell has turned around her season, Hines-Allen’s end of season run has motivated her teammates.
“Her teammates keep rooting for her,” Thibault said. “There's no jealousy on this team of somebody now getting this kind of attention. She just got a water shower bath when she got to the locker room from her teammates, so you know that's a sign of love by your teammates.”
Most importantly for Hines-Allen and the rest of the team, they are now right there in the playoff mix. The win moved the Mystics (7-13) into a tie with the Wings (7-13) for the final postseason slot.
Washington still does not control their own destiny, but over the past week they have made a drastic turnaround for a team that has had a seven-game and a five-game losing streak this season. That motivation was enough for Hines-Allen in the closing moments.
“We said it out of the last three-minute timeout that basically this is our season, this is our push for the playoffs. We got to win this game,” Leilani Mitchell said. “I think that spoke to Myisha especially. She just competes every single night and you saw her go out there and she took it into her own hands and played amazing for us.”
Thibault’s right. The conversation is no longer about her being the Most Improved Player. It’s about the team stealing a spot in the playoffs and in turn if Hines-Allen wills the Mystics to the playoffs she should be considered amongst the top-10 players in the league.