“The fact that every game gets our attention, that’s a good thing,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “For all of us at the top now, it’s a way to learn more about yourself. You play for something. There is an advantage to these games, teams that you know you can take on if you want to progress.”
The Mystics used that edge to their advantage on Tuesday night, rebounding from a sub-par first quarter to defeat the Aces, 83-73, and moving up to fourth with four games remaining. Maintaining that position would give the Mystics (20-12), winners five out of six and now a half-game lead over Seattle (19-12), at home in the first round.
The runners-up (22-9) recently beat Sky to win the Commissioners Cup and on Tuesday entered a four-game winning streak with the league’s top spot in their sights. Coach Becky Hammon laughed when asked how important this top seed was.
““We were actually better on the road,” she said before the match. “So I don’t even know if I want it. It’s just about playing well at the right time. Playing well, being solid – that’s my biggest concern.”
The interval picture is narrow all the way. Washington is 1½ games behind the third-placed Connecticut Sun (21-10), and Storm holds a tiebreak over the Mystics if they finish with the same record.
““I think it helps to play games like that,” Thibault said. “We are still playing for something. Every time you beat a good team that you know can compete for a championship, it helps your confidence. Over the past two weeks we have collected some good victories.”
Here’s what you need to know about Winning Mystics:
Thibault described the second half on Tuesday as one of the best defensive halves of the season for his team. The Aces scored only 32 points while Washington took advantage of an 11-0 lead in the fourth quarter to advance 79-68 and end the match.
The win was even more impressive considering that Elena Delle Donne had only five points while receiving significant defensive attention; She provided 11 rebounds and five assists. Tebow said she was dealing with her tired legs but promised she would be fine in the fourth quarter.
““I don’t know many other franchises and superstars who would take that role as a snare at the offensive end and give themselves up to get her teammates into the open shots,” said goalkeeper Natasha Cloud, who has 16 points and nine assists. “So when your franchise player is so selfless, it just flows down. How can we be selfish in any way if this is our franchise player?”
Ariel Atkins was outstanding in his defense with 13 points as the Mystics completed a seasonal sweep of the Aces.
“We started to brittle and started to click and started to really look [expletive] Scary and we peak in time,” said Cloud. We knew this was going to happen. We knew if we…we stuck with our plan and the process we were going to be in. So we’re just trying to finish the season strong and prepare for the play-offs.”
Rookie Shakira Austin scored 15 points and eight rebounds while battling 2020 best player Aja Wilson (22 points). Austin had many players while playing hard on both ends.
1 Atlanta Dream’s Ryan Howard was named Rookie of the Month for July on Monday, but No. 3 pick Austin is in conversation with Rookie of the Year honors.
“I have to be the newbie of the year,” she said with a smile. “And we’ll win a slice!”
The Mystics have kept their eyes on the Los Angeles Sparks all season: the more they struggle, the better for Washington. The Sparks 2023 first-round draft pick is owned by Dream, which offered that pick in trade with Mystics that brought them the first pick this year. The Mystics have the option to switch their first-round selection in 2023 to pick the Sparks.
Los Angeles (12-18) lost to New York Liberty (12-18) on Tuesday and have fallen four times in a row. Sparks ties up with Dream and the Liberty at the last place in the playoff. If Los Angeles misses the post-season, that draft pick becomes a lottery pick — and the Mystics have a chance of securing the first pick for the second year in a row.