Series Preview: Mystics vs. Dream
After a two year hiatus, the Washington Mystics (17-17) are back in the playoffs. Not only are they in the playoffs, but the team finished the year on a three-game winning streak to leapfrog the Indiana Fever and snag the three seed. This means they get the Atlanta Dream (17-17) in round one.
They’ll head into the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals as the underdogs as they take on a Dream (17-17) team that has made the post-season five years in a row. The Dream may have the experience, but they really limped to the finish line, losing their final four games and finishing the year with a .500 record. For a team that started the year 10-1, finishing at 17-17 had to be disappointing. But, regular season records can be thrown out the window now as a new season begins: The Playoffs.
While she’s certainly no secret, if the Mystics want a shot to win this series they’ll need to limit the dangerous Angel McCoughtry. She’s the WNBA’s leading scorer (21.5 ppg), she ranks second in steals (2.7 spg), she’s first in both free throws made (196) and attempted (238), and she set new career highs in rebounds (5.3) and assists (4.4) per game this season.
So how do you stop her?
There’s no great answer here, but the Mystics will need to do everything in their power to make things as difficult as possible for McCoughtry on the floor. They did hold her to slightly below her season average at 19.6 points per game in the five matchups during the regular season, but they’ll need to expect Angel to be even more aggressive now that the playoffs have arrived.
The one who will likely see the most time on McCoughtry will be Monique Currie, who has seen plenty of her over the years.
“She’s a great player, she’ll get her shots, but we can try and contain her, limit her touches and crowd her when she gets the ball which will make things difficult for her,” said the veteran forward.
The Mystics have also used Tierra Ruffin-Pratt off the bench to pester the all-star forward throughout this season, so look for TRP to make a contribution on the defensive end as they show Atlanta a few different looks.
Head coach Mike Thibault knows that stopping McCoughtry will be critical, but that the Dream are more than just a one trick pony.
“I think you make her work for everything she does and make her catches tough. We’ve held her a little below her average, we’ve made her have to be a passer, but she’s upped her assists this year she’s got a pretty complete game. But as much as you have to stop Angel, they have enough other weapons…. They’ve all been making shots, it’s not a one man game, it just seems like it sometimes.”
The Dream force 10.2 steals per game as a team, which was good for #1 in the league this year. They love to get up and down the floor and score in transition, so the Mystics will need to take extra care of the ball when running their offense.
“We just have to execute and take care of the ball, we still want to be aggressive and push the ball at them, we just need to be smart with our decisions” said forward Crystal Langhorne.
“I don’t think you want to play slower, it’s not good for our team to play slower, but you don’t want to force things, it will have to be a low turnover game for us to be successful,” said Thibault.
Forcing Atlanta to the Perimeter
The Dream shot a league worst 27.5% from three-point range this season and in the Mystics two wins against Atlanta this season they held them to just 3-32 (9%) from beyond the arc. This should play a huge factor in this series as the Mystics will again look to clog the lane and force Atlanta to the perimeter. The chess match begins if the Dream happen to catch fire from long range, which is when Thibault may have to make an in-game adjustment to slow down the Dream attack.
“We definitely want to make them shoot outside shots, they’re so good in the paint, you really want to clog it up against them,” said Langhorne.
X- Factor – Tayler Hill
What could end up being the x-factor for the Mystics will be the play of their #4 overall pick, Tayler Hill. Through the first half of the season, Hill struggled with her outside shot and could never really find a rhythm within the offense. But, over her last seven games, Hill has scored in double figures in six of them, averaging 13.0 points per game. She is 18-35 (51%) from 3-point range during that stretch and has been a huge boost off the bench for the Mystics. When the Mystics offense starts to sputter, look for Hill to be the one to shoot them back into the game.
“These past few games, I’ve been hot, but the game has really slowed down for me and I’m more comfortable out there. When you’re more comfortable everything comes a lot easier,” said the rookie Hill.
If the Mystics are to win this series, they will need Ivory Latta to be great. She has been the leader all season long, she leads the team in points (13.9) and assists (4.4), and she has never been afraid to take big shots down the stretch. The team will need her to dictate tempo, control the pace, limit turnovers, score the ball, and find open teammates when the situation calls for it. Many times the rest of the team feeds off of Latta’s energy and they will need every bit of that in this series versus Atlanta.