The Washington Post

Washington bounces back on defense

- BY KAREEM COPELAND

MYSTICS 70, LYNX 57

The Minnesota Lynx came to Washington as one of the hottest teams in the WNBA. They had won four of five, notching victories against the league’s top two teams.

In that stretch, they were the second-highest-scoring team in the league. On Sunday, they ran into the WNBA’S No. 1 defense.

The Washington Mystics locked up the Lynx en route to a 70-57 victory to improve to 5-2 in their past seven games.

“There’s no reason that we aren’t bringing this type of defensive intensity every single night, especially when on offense we’re still figuring it out,” point guard Natasha Cloud said.

The 57 points were a season low for the Lynx (10-17), who shot 33.3 percent and had 16 turnovers. The Mystics (16-11) scored 17 points off those giveaways.

The Mystics shot just 37.7 percent, but they can survive those kind of outings because of their defense. Elena Delle Donne scored a game-high 21 points to go with 10 rebounds and three assists. Ariel Atkins chipped in 15 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists. Cloud added seven points, eight assists and six rebounds, and Shatori WalkerKimb­rough had 11 points off the bench.

“It’s been our identity from Day One,” Delle Donne said of the defense. “We’ve added pieces of the puzzle that . . . are just so good defensivel­y. Coming off

[ Thursday’s loss at Phoenix], we were frustrated that our defense struggled. It’s all right if our offense struggles, but our defense should always be consistent, and it should always be what makes us go. So to bounce back, to play like this was huge for us.”

Kayla Mcbride led the Lynx with 16 points; former Mystics player Aerial Powers was held to 11 on 5-for-16 shooting.

“We made them have to take tough shots,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “We were determined to make every shot contested for them.”

Atkins said a game such as Sunday’s is as important for the team mentally as it is in the standings.

“As much as it’s us telling other people that we can do it, I think it’s more so for ourselves, telling us that we do know how to regroup,” Atkins said. “We do know how to come back, lock in on certain things and get the job done. So I think it’s kind of a morale and confidence builder for us.”

Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ win:

Feeling disrespect­ed

Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve was less than thrilled with the WNBA after her team faced an array of travel issues to get to Washington for Sunday’s 3 p.m. tip-off. Thibault wasn’t sympatheti­c.

The Lynx were leaving Indiana after playing the second game of a back-to-back when their flight was canceled. They already had done same-day travel Friday to reach Indianapol­is for a 7 p.m. game after they played in Minneapoli­s on Thursday.

Their new flight had mechanical issues that forced them off the tarmac.

The traveling party had to be split, and staff eventually arrived in Washington around 8 p.m. Saturday, with players arriving around midnight.

Reeve said she called the

WNBA to alert it to potential issues early Saturday and did not receive a prompt response. The eventual response, Reeve explained Sunday, was to help with arranging flights instead of possibly pushing the game time back.

“The greater disappoint­ment was a lack of support that we felt in terms of unresponsi­ve messages to the league,” Reeve said. “From our standpoint, there was no communicat­ion with the leadership of the Minnesota Lynx. And so, to me, that’s an epic fail. So was there considerat­ion given? I have no idea. It was leaked to me later on that there was communicat­ion to Washington. There wasn’t communicat­ion with Minnesota, and I’m not sure how that would happen.”

Thibault said the league contacted the Mystics about moving the time of the game, but because

of a near sellout as the team staged Japanese Heritage Day, they decided against a change. Thibault said every team in the league has to deal with travel issues. WNBA teams do not charter flights and must fly commercial, which is a sore spot for players.

“I’m tired of hearing about it,” Thibault said. “Tired of reading about it on Twitter. It happens to every team, and I get it. Every team would like to come in fully refreshed, but they got here last night. They didn’t play yesterday. And I know it’s a long day, but everybody goes through them. That’s just life. I’d like to feel sorry for them, but I’m sorry — I don’t.”

The WNBA did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment.

Bouncing back

The Mystics were coming off a

frustratin­g 80-75 loss to the Mercury in which they were affected by physical play and allowed Diana Taurasi and Skylar DigginsSmi­th to combine for 53 points.

“Bouncing back from a loss in Phoenix, where we didn’t play the best defense,” Cloud said. “Being able to come home, regroup and we’re tired — we were on the road for almost a week . . . having to come back, adjust and then still come out and have that attention to detail. [On Saturday], I promise you, when we all came in, we were like, ‘What’s the fine for missing practice?’ Because we’re tired. But to come out to have that type of defensive presence, we’re going to be really good down the stretch if we can keep this consistent.”

A fond farewell

The Mystics honored Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles, who is retiring after the season. The team played a video that featured several players and Thibault speaking about their experience­s with the 36-year-old star.

Afterward, the organizati­on donated a bike to a child in Fowles’s name and gave her a going-away gift. She had nine points and 12 rebounds in 20 minutes.

“We’ve just had a good relationsh­ip for years,” said Thibault, who got to know Fowles well through USA Basketball. “Just one of my favorite people in the league — not favorite to play against but favorite people. I won’t miss coaching games against her, but I’ ll miss that competitiv­eness and I’ ll miss just seeing her on a regular basis. She lights up a room when she’s around, and I think that’s a great trait.”

 ?? SCOTT TAETSCH FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Elena Delle Donne scored a game-high 21 points against Damiris Dantas, left, Aerial Powers and the Lynx during Sunday’s victory.
SCOTT TAETSCH FOR THE WASHINGTON POST Elena Delle Donne scored a game-high 21 points against Damiris Dantas, left, Aerial Powers and the Lynx during Sunday’s victory.
 ?? SCOTT Taetsch for The Washington POST ?? Natasha Cloud had seven points, eight assists and six rebounds against Moriah Jefferson and the Lynx at Entertainm­ent and Sports Arena.
SCOTT Taetsch for The Washington POST Natasha Cloud had seven points, eight assists and six rebounds against Moriah Jefferson and the Lynx at Entertainm­ent and Sports Arena.

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