Mys­tics over­come in­juries and a leaky roof to rout In­di­ana.

MYS­TICS 100, FEVER 80

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY AVA WAL­LACE ava.wal­lace@wash­post.com

The Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics have felt some­what like a brand-new team again this month. With star for­ward Elena Delle Donne out for at least two more weeks with a thumb in­jury and sec­ondlead­ing scorer Tayler Hill out for the rest of the sea­son with a knee in­jury, Coach Mike Thibault has sup­ple­mented his ros­ter with two new play­ers and asked ev­ery­one else to step up their pro­duc­tion.

Thibault said the week of prac­tice lead­ing up to Sat­ur­day night’s game against the In­di­ana Fever felt like a mini-train­ing camp.

But his play­ers per­formed ex­pertly come game time, beat­ing In­di­ana, 100-80, in front of 7,337 at Cap­i­tal One Arena.

Wash­ing­ton led from whis­tle to whis­tle be­hind Krys­tal Thomas’s strong de­fense and a break­out per­for­mance from rookie Sha­tori Walker-Kim­brough to notch its fifth win in the past six games.

The most dra­matic part of the evening was a 45-minute de­lay be­fore the start of the sec­ond half that was caused by a leak in the arena’s roof. Com­fort­ably lead­ing 49-36 at half­time, the Mys­tics had ex­tra pos­i­tive en­ergy to ex­pel at half­time, so they ini­ti­ated a dance-off be­tween the two teams, much to the crowd’s de­light. Wash­ing­ton is be­com­ing adept at deal­ing with leaks — Sat­ur­day was its sec­ond game af­fected by a faulty roof at Cap­i­tal One Arena. The Mys­tics’ July 28 game against the Con­necti­cut Sun was post­poned for the same rea­son and has been resched­uled for Aug. 29.

“You just come out and get loose and stick with your game plan,” Thibault said with a smile.

The Mys­tics’ plan ended up in­clud­ing a ca­reer-best per­for­mance from Thomas, who is hav­ing a resur­gent sea­son with Wash­ing­ton in her sixth year in the WNBA. She scored a ca­reer­high 20 points while go­ing 7 for 8 from the field and grab­bing a game-high 14 re­bounds.

Ini­tially plugged into the start­ing lineup as a stop­gap while for­ward Emma Meesse­man was ful­fill­ing in­ter­na­tional team du­ties in Europe, Thomas has proved in­te­gral as the head of the Mys­tics’ team de­fense. Sat­ur­day marked her fourth con­sec­u­tive game pulling in at least 14 re­bounds.

Meesse­man added 15 points and seven as­sists.

“Ev­ery now and then you get a lit­tle blast from the past. The knees start feel­ing a lit­tle bet­ter,” Thomas joked after­ward. “No, I just wanted to go out there and play as hard as I could, do what I needed to help the team tonight.”

A large part of Thomas’s value to the Mys­tics has been her lead­er­ship. As one of the most vo­cal play­ers on the court, her di­rec­tion has been crit­i­cal in help­ing Walker-Kim­brough along in her first sea­son in the WNBA. Sat­ur­day’s game proved to be a mile­stone in the Mary­land grad­u­ate’s de­vel­op­ment.

Walker-Kim­brough an­nounced her pres­ence from the start. She stole the ball on In­di­ana’s first pos­ses­sion and smartly drew two fouls early in the first quar­ter to get Wash­ing­ton on a roll. She ended up with a sea­son­high 13 points on 2-for-6 shoot­ing from the field and 7-for-8 shoot­ing from the free throw line.

“The coaches, the play­ers in prac­tice con­tinue to give me con­fi­dence,” Walker-Kim­brough said, “and that re­ally goes a long way.”

Thibault has leaned on Walker-Kim­brough heav­ily in the past two games as he ad­justs to a short­handed ros­ter, and she will con­tinue to fig­ure into the start­ing lineup with Delle Donne not ex­pected to re­turn un­til an Aug. 25 game against the New York Lib­erty. Natasha Cloud, an­other guard the Mys­tics had been miss­ing, logged 17 min­utes in her first game back since tear­ing her right plan­tar fas­cia on Aug. 4.

“Es­pe­cially with Tayler be­ing out for the rest of the year, we need some guards to step up. . . ” Thibault said. “Most of it for Sha­tori right now is un­der­stand­ing that we need her, that you can’t just be out there, or I can’t play you. If you’re just go­ing to be out there oc­cu­py­ing space, it doesn’t do us any good. Now you have to im­pose your will in the game. I told her on Thurs­day that she’s done be­ing a rookie. We don’t want the rookie Sha­tori. We want the one that wants to be a veteran.”

In­di­ana’s star veteran Candice Dupree led four Fever play­ers in dou­ble fig­ures with 26 points on 12-for-18 shoot­ing af­ter a slow start, but her team­mates weren’t able to back up her hero­ics. The Fever suf­fered its sev­enth loss in its past eight games and has won only twice since July 1.

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