Not long ago the Washington Mystics were written off by many as a team that between injuries and opt-outs were simply overwhelmed by the pressure of living in the wubble. On the eve of the conclusion of the WNBA’s regular season, Washington is now in the final playoff spot and in complete control of their fate.
After beating the New York Liberty Saturday, the Mystics now only have to beat the Atlanta Dream on Sunday to lock up the spot. A crazy turn of events for Washington after two separate stretches where they lost seven and five games in a row.
“The expectations in DC are always to win,” head coach Mike Thibault said pregame. “Clearly, this has been a trying summer for everybody, but the fact that we're still in a position to do it, it’s a little bit amazing and a little bit it's a testament to the players kind of hanging in and giving themselves an opportunity when things were not going so well a few weeks ago.”
Their 75-58 win over New York was their fourth victory in the last five contests. Like has been the case in all of those wins, it was the story of the season, Myisha Hines-Allen leading the way. With her 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting, the WNBA’s Most Improved Player candidate recorded her fourth straight 20-point outing (seventh of the year) and night double-double of the season.
In the opening half, Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins combined for 28 of the team’s 36 points while the rest of the roster only shot 25% from the field. Atkins finished with 18 points and a game-high five steals as the rest of the team eventually found their stroke again in the second half.
Carrying them through the scoring slump was their defense. Washington forced a season-high 25 Liberty turnovers with 15 steals. The result was the team’s best defensive effort on the year, keeping an opponent under 60 points.
“With every game we've been through this season, with of some of the things you guys have seen, some of the things you haven't seen, we have the ability,” Atkins said postgame. “The destiny is in our hands and I'm thankful that we're in that position and not in a position of trying to have somebody else help us along the way.”
Attention quickly turns to Sunday for the win-and-in game against Atlanta. This contest was the game that was rescheduled after the Mystics opted not to play after the shooting of Jacob Blake. Making the postseason requires Washington to get two wins on their first, and only, back-to-back on the season.
“If the price is a back-to-back to get a chance to play for a playoff spot then we'll take it,” Thibault said. “Hopefully, if you want to if you want to win bad enough, you'll try to figure out a way to grind through it.”
Earlier this season the Mystics beat Atlanta to snap their seven-game skid in their only other head-to-head of the season. While Washington’s win against New York has completely eliminated the Dream from the postseason, Atlanta is playing their best basketball of the season as well. Like the Mystics, they have won four of their last five with two straight wins over playoff teams.
The Mystics’, however, may clinch the final spot before their 5:00 p.m. ET game. A Dallas Wings’ loss to the Liberty would also give Washington the eighth playoff seed win or lose.
It would be a round about way for the Mystics to get there, especially after a 3-0 start that was followed with them sitting at a 4-12 record with two and a half weeks to go in the year. Either way Thibault will take it and have a chance to put up a defense of their 2019 title.
“It would be nice if Dallas lost at noon and we wouldn't have to worry about it but I think that it's going to come down to [our] game,” Thibault said postgame. “One game to make the playoffs and, given where we were a week ago, this was the hope if we played the right way and we've done that.”