WASHINGTON - A long and trying season has wrapped for the Washington Mystics. An 83-77 loss to the Minnesota Lynx at home on Sunday ended their 2021 campaign with a 12-20 record and just short of making the WNBA playoffs.
It marks the first time since 2016 that Washington will not be in the postseason.
The year never quite lived up to expectations. Two MVPs, two starters from the 2019 championship team, one of the top 3-point shooters in WNBA history and several veteran players with championship pedigree made up the roster. But as the year went on, problems persisted: team chemistry, poor starts to games and consistency, among other issues.
That was emblematic in the season finale against Minnesota.
Once again, the Mystics were plagued by a slow start. The energy was lacking, leading to a 27-19 deficit after the first quarter. Rinse and repeat for the second half even after they'd tied the contest at 41.
Another slow start out of the locker room allowed an 18-5 Minnesota run that swung control of the game back to the away team.
Once again, the rest of the roster failed to step up on the offensive end outside of Tina Charles, Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud’s efforts.
Once again, turnovers -- 17 of them -- took Washington out of the game.
And despite a spirited, backs-against-the-wall comeback, there was not enough left in the tank of an exhausting season. Former Mystics guard Aerial Powers, a member of that 2019 title team, led the Lynx with 27 points and it was all too much to overcome.
All season, the Washington coaching staff preached that if they just could make it to the WNBA playoffs that things could come together. They would have a chance. Creating a system that was tailor-made with Charles as the focal point took some time.
Ideally, their vision had Elena Delle Donne joining that system late into the year. Injuries, though, were a theme that kept repeating itself. But a veteran team expected it could put it all together by at least the last half of the season. It just never happened.
Mystics coach Mike Thibault said it did mesh perfectly for the 16 minutes Delle Donne played in her first game back on Aug. 22 against the defending champion Seattle Storm. But a hip injury sidelined Charles for a few weeks. And shortly after making her long-awaited return, Delle Donne tweaked her surgically-repaired back once again and never returned.
Thibault himself wasn't even around for the end. The 70-year-old tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the final two games -- losses to the Lynx and the New York Liberty that cost Washington a playoff spot. Win one of those games and the Mystics would have made it. It was that kind of year.
There’s no question that not making it is a disappointment for Washington and its fans.
Despite the injuries, the talent was there. Even without Delle Donne for 91% of the season and star forward Emma Meesseman, who decided to focus on helping Belgium prepare for the Tokyo Olympics and sit out the season, there were enough stars to compete. Playoffs were the expectation. A favorable seed was in play as well.
Now the offseason will be spent dissecting if injuries are to blame for the underwhelming performance. Over the course of the season, there were 54 instances where a starter was not available. Questions remain on the health of Delle Donne and her longevity as the centerpiece of the franchise. Many have asked if it was worth bringing her back so late in the year. Hindsight makes it easy to draw conclusions.
Those players could all return for 2022 so maybe the basketball seen throughout the year is not indicative of the franchise’s true ability. Maybe 2022 will be better. But, for now, it’s back to the drawing board as the Mystics look to extend their championship window.