September 12, 2018.
If you’re unaware of the significance of this date, utter it to 75 percent of the Washington Mystics current roster and beware of the glower that is sure to return.
Three hundred and fifty days ago the Seattle Storm traveled to EagleBank Arena and claimed their third WNBA Championship in franchise history after sweeping the Mystics in three games. Breanna Stewart had a series-high 30 points, Sue Bird dished out 10 assists, and the Stics exited the arena without a single victory to show for their first-ever finals appearance.
Fast forward to May 5, 2019.
Head coach Mike Thibault gathers the players, coaches and the team’s business staff together for a Cinco de Mayo-themed meal. Smiles, laughter, and fellowship ensues, until coach Thibault puts a video up on the screen.
The room decrescendos to a mute as the Seattle Storm’s 2018 championship celebration glows off the faces of everyone in attendance. The culmination of how the Mystics season abruptly ended and the gut-wrenching agony of having to watch Seattle celebrate on their home floor for a second time, birthed their 2019 team slogan.
“Run it back.”
With the playoffs tipping off September 11th, we’re now on the cusp of where that motto is officially put to the test.
Leading up to postseason play, the Washington Mystics have been by far the best team in basketball. They currently hold the best record in the league at 22-12, while also leading the association in just about every major statistical category: points per game (88.8), assists per game (21.8), field goal percentage (46.8), three-pointers made (277) and free-throw percentage (87.2).
To be frank, they’re bulldozing teams night-in and night-out. They’re sitting at a plus-11.4 differential which is not just a league-best, but currently, the third-best ever, with the highest since the Houston Comets completed their four-peat in 2000. No other team in the WNBA right now has differential higher than plus-4.0. And after defeating the western conference-leading Los Angeles Sparks Tuesday night, by 29, they sit at 13 20+ point victories this season - no team in history has had more than 9.
Oh, did I mention the Mystics have continued to dominate the WNBA without their starting star shooting guard, Kristi Toliver, for the last month? It must’ve slipped my mind because their on-court production hasn’t skipped a single beat.
But this is the playoffs and anything can happen. History shows that the team with the WNBA's best record has won the championship just 13 times in the league's 23 seasons.
So who may be in the Stics’ path to capturing a storybook ending?
Connecticut Sun (21-9)
Like the Mystics, the Sun have been a constant force in the association all year long. They’ve won seven of their last 10 games and pose the biggest threat to Washington not just in playoff competition, but seeding. The Mystics have put an extra emphasis on winning out because the Sun sit only one game back from the number one seed AND hold the tiebreaker if things “even up” in the last few games. Home court advantage is something that every team cherishes this time of year, and these two teams are the best in the league at protecting home floor. While Washington is in the midst of an eight-game winning streak in the Entertainment and Sports Arena, Connecticut holds the best home record in the league at 14-1.
Jonquel Jones, an MVP-caliber player, continues to wreak havoc on the offensive and defensive end. She’s a mismatch for any team at any location on the floor.
Los Angeles Sparks (18-11)
A 29-point shellacking Tuesday night put a damper on the Sparks as a formidable opposition to the red-hot Mystics, at least for the time being. However, this team has found their stride at the right time even though they’ve struggled on the road as of late. Winners of seven of their last 10, the next few games on the schedule could operate as significant confidence boosts: the Las Vegas Aces, Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm would be three quality victories.
Chicago Sky (18-12)
The last team to defeat the Mystics, the Sky have claimed victories in seven of their last 10 outings as well. With a first-year coach in James Wade, who overtook a team that missed the postseason last year, they look as hungry as ever to make some noise in a season where many had zero expectations for them. Their offense has been hitting on all cylinder and after defeating the Mystics, Sparks and Aces, all in the same month, they have to feel good about themselves heading into the meat of September.
Regardless of who stands between them and a championship, Washington has operated this entire season with the mindset of no excuses.
Things are looking good for this team as they’re heavy favorites to win it all, but with the official anniversary of their 2018 Finals demise essentially kicking off postseason play this year, the Mystics have to stay hot when it matters the most.
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