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Takeaways from Wizards' impressive win over Bucks

Takeaways from Wizards' impressive win over Bucks

Looking like a more stable team minus the dropoff with the second unit, the Wizards won their second game in a row as they came behind in a tough matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, 110-105.

The Wizards (9-13) trailed 100-95 but went on a 10-0 run to have the lead in the final 90 seconds. 

John Wall (24 points, 11 assists), Bradley Beal (20 points) and Markieff Morris (15 points, 9 rebounds) led the Wizards in a game that was closely contested from start to finish.

Otto Porter (10 points), Marcin Gortat (9 points, 14 rebounds) and Kelly Oubre (19 points, 9 rebounds) also contributed. It was Oubre's career-high in scoring.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (28 points, 13 rebounds) led the way for Milwaukee, playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Mirza Teletovic (25 points) was a spark off the bench along with rookie Malcolm Brogdon (11 points). John Henson (14 points) did most of his damage in the first half.

Porter and Oubre had clutch buckets in the last five minutes cut the deficit to 98-95 as they overcame two bad pass turnovers from Wall in transition late.

Wall made up for it by pushing the pace no matter what, and a twist of screens by Gortat freed him for a layup and a 101-100 lead with 3:03 left, Oubre had a steal and dunk and Beal a layup to shut the door.

--Antetokounmpo is a difficult matchup for anyone because of his length and size at 6-10. Porter needed more help as he has trouble with bigger, more physical players. The Wizards were more successful when they doubled with a guard and forced him to make a decision with the ball. He had seven of Milwaukee’s 20 turnovers.

--The second unit, led by Oubre and Trey Burke, went on a 12-0 run to erase a 32-23 deficit to start the second quarter. Morris played with them, including Andrew Nicholson and Marcus Thornton. By the time be re-entered for Thornton at 7:26, it was all. Wall came in one minute later for Burke. Not having to erase a big deficit meant neither backcourt starter had to log unusually high minutes, either.

--Teletovic registered DNP-CD’s in the previous two games for Milwaukee. He was instant offense in his first 10 minutes with eight points, making 2 of 3 three-point shots. He signed a three-year deal for $30 million this summer, leaving Phoenix, and is the type of stretch option the Wizards probably could’ve benefitted from off the bench considering their struggles scoring.

-- Morris and Gortat had their opportunities because of the way the Bucks defended the pick-and-roll. They trapped and doubled Wall and Beal. That meant the pocket pass was there or the rebounds off misses. The Wizards shot just 38.8% in the first half but the duo had 15 of their 25 rebounds. The Wizards had four more overall, including plus-10 on the offensive glass.

-- Oubre’s energy and defense has rocketed him up the rotation. He played more than anyone on the bench, 29 minutes, and almost had his second career double-double by halftime (nine points, seven rebounds). Oubre also finished the game with Porter again instead of Morris when the Wizards made the late run.

-- Jason Smith dropped from the rotation as he played just 21 seconds to end the second quarter, but he made two shots in the fourth quarter to steady them.

[RELATED: WIZARDS IMPRESSED BY LONGEVITY OF BUCKS' JASON TERRY]

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Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

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Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

On a stacked Mystics team, LaToya Sanders knows her role. 

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound wisp of a center is asked to guard far bigger opponents throughout the season and still complement her teammates on the offensive end. It’s a lot to deal with. She does so without complaint. 

Sanders, the most unheralded of Washington’s five starters, did it all on Thursday night in a 103-91 WNBA semifinal win over the Las Vegas Aces at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. 

She finished with 17 points on a night when WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (14 points, 5 of 15 shooting) struggled given her lofty standards. Sanders also played the kind of defense that left coach Mike Thibault insisting she should have been named WNBA first or second-team All-Defense. 

“My job is probably the easiest on the team,” Sanders laughed. “My job is basically to hit wide-open jumpers and lay-ups. Pretty sure I can do those two things.”

Indeed, she was efficient hitting 7 of 10 shots and all three free throws. Sanders also had to guard Vegas’ 6-8 center Liz Cambage, a big ask given their size difference. Cambage did have 23 points and 10 rebounds, but she only took 11 shots. 

Sanders and her teammates tried to make it as hard as possible for the Aces to get the ball inside for easy baskets in their two wins this week. Washington won Game 1 of the series 97-95 on Tuesday, a game that left Cambage visibly frustrated. She also earned a technical foul in Thursday’s game on a rough play underneath the Vegas basket.  

“When you’re LaToya Sanders and you’re 6-3 and you’re relying on your long arms to guard people, she takes a beating every night,” Thibault said. “She guards Camabge and [Phoenix Mercury center Brittney] Griner and [Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia] Fowles and all those people. And every night she wins a lot of those battles.”

But the really unsung part of Sanders’ game is her mid-range jumper. Thursday she was on when some of her higher-profile teammates like Delle Donne didn’t quite have their shot dropping. 

Sanders had six points in the third quarter as the two teams battled back and forth in a tight game and that set the stage for the decisive run that tilted the game toward the Mystics. She also had a hot start to the night with two baskets in the first quarter. 

“[Sanders is] a really good player. She's just on a team with so many other good players that she doesn't get as many shots,” Vegas guard Kelsey Plum said. “But she plays her role as good as anyone in the league. She's a vet. She rebounds the crap out of the ball. I just think that she does a great job for them. Everyone made us pay."

Thibault referenced a rebound Sanders grabbed in traffic to stifle a Vegas possession when they were trying to get the lead under 10 points in the fourth quarter. Instead, Washington was able to work the clock at the offensive end and score a knockout blow. It’s the little things that matter most when a team is pushing for a championship. The Mystics are one step closer. 

“Cambage is a talent, she’s a big girl,” Sanders said. “I just do what I can to try to make it difficult for her, but she’s going to hit some buckets here and there. I try to dish it out, but not take it.”  

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On off shooting night, Elena Delle Donne shows why she's MVP in Mystics' Game 2 win

On off shooting night, Elena Delle Donne shows why she's MVP in Mystics' Game 2 win

WASHINGTON -- Most nights for Mystics superstar Elena Delle Donne call for her to score. Some nights require her to do just about everything else.

In Washington's Game 2 win on Thursday night, Delle Donne was the focal point of the Aces' defense, to the point where double teams were common and open shots were rare. She managed 15 attempts, but only made five of them and topped out at 14 points, well south of her regular season average (19.5). 

So, Delle Donne adjusted and, with coincidental timing, did exactly what she described just hours before the game during her acceptance speech for the 2019 WNBA MVP award. Earlier, she explained how seven years of WNBA experience have instilled the importance of making her teammates better, how that ultimately is the separator from winning in the playoffs and going home early.

Thursday put that theory into practice. Delle Donne overcame her off shooting night with 10 rebounds, two blocks and countless plays where she created shooting opportunities.

Delle Donne is known for her scoring. She holds a 20.3-point average for her career and this season became the first WNBA player ever to post a 50-40-90 shooting season.

How she played in Game 2 may have been unfamiliar for some that were watching, but not for those in the Mystics locker room.

"That's the Elena Delle Donne that's the MVP," head coach Mike Thibault said. "This game kind of epitomized it because she didn't have a good shooting game and yet people are running to double-team her and she's finding someone else. She gets double-figure rebounds, she comes up with a big blocked shot down the stretch. Those other things are things nobody ever things about with her."

"I think that’s what makes Delle the MVP is because she doesn’t force anything," guard Kristi Tolliver said. "She’s able to just be herself stay unselfish – we have a very unselfish team."

Thibault revealed that as the game went on, he purposefully drew up plays to use Delle Donne as a decoy just to get shots for Emma Meesseman, who had a game-high 30 points, and others. Delle Donne had no qualms with it, either, as she watched five of her teammates reach double-figures.

"That's what this team is about. On any night, someone can step up and take over," Delle Donne said.

That attitude can spread on a team. If the best player is giving herself up for a greater cause, others have no excuse not to do the same. 

As guard Natasha Cloud described, Delle Donne is so versatile that a bad shooting game doesn't fit the traditional definition of an 'off night.'

"I wouldn't say that she was off, I would just say that she missed some shots. But even on this type of night, she's a player that you have to commit to, that you have to respect," Cloud said. "You have to respect her shot and you have to respect the player that she is, especially on the offensive end."

Stopping Delle Donne and the three-point shot were the main areas of emphasis for the Aces on defense, and technically their strategy worked. Delle Donne didn't light up the scoreboard and the Mystics attempted only seven threes in the first half after taking 28 in Game 1.

But they didn't account for how Delle Donne would adjust. That left a sense of bewilderment in the Aces' locker room as they processed a game that has them one loss away from elimination.

"I thought we did a decent job on her," Aces star A'Ja Wilson told NBC Sports Washington. "But we've still gotta get back to the drawing board."

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