When the Mystics traded for former MVP Elena Delle Donne in the offseason, they had their eyes set on not just making it back to the playoffs, but making a deep run. The plan hit a bit of a snag when Delle Donne was forced to miss 10 games mostly during the second half of the season, which dropped the Mystics from a top four seed earning a first round bye, to the sixth seed hosting the Dallas Wings in a single elimination playoff game on Wednesday (8 ET, ESPN2) to open the 2017 WNBA postseason.
While the Mystics have Delle Donne, who played in the 2014 WNBA Finals, and Kristi Toliver, who helped lead the L.A. Sparks to last year’s WNBA title, the Wings will have little experience to rely upon as they make their first playoff appearance since moving to Texas as it’s just the franchise’s second appearance in the last eight seasons.
This will mark the first playoff experience for nearly the entire Wings roster, including All-Star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, standout forward Glory Johnson as well as the five rookies on their roster. Diggins-Smith (ACL) and Johnson (pregnancy) both missed the franchise’s last playoff appearance in 2015 – their final season in Tulsa – but both are back and playing better than ever before.
The Wings are the youngest team in the league and the playoff experience discrepancy between them and the Mystics is staggering. Delle Donne (449) has played more playoff minutes than the entire Wings team combined (412).
Under the new playoff format, Dallas’ first playoff experience will come in a single-elimination game on the road, which presents a tall task for the young squad. Can they duplicate their success from the regular season?
Regular Season Series
The Wings won the season series with the Mystics, 2-1, with both of their wins coming in Washington. Dallas only had six road wins all season, but two of them came at the expense of the Mystics. After Washington took the first game of the season by 11 points on the road, the Wings won the final two in a pair of tightly contested games, picking up wins by four and five points, respectively.
Delle Donne had an outstanding overall game in Washington’s 101-89 win on June 6, scoring 23 points, grabbing six boards, setting a career-high with four steals and blocking three shots. The Mystics also got 17 points each from Toliver and Tayler Hill, who was lost for the season with an ACL tear in July.
In their July 18 matchup, it was Johnson who stole the show with a season-high 27 points to complement a terrific effort by Diggins-Smith, who finished with 19 points, eight assists and seven boards. This was the only game of the series in which Delle Donne failed to score at least 20 points.
The final matchup of the season, on Aug. 26, saw a balanced effort by the Wings overcome a top-heavy performance from the Mystics. Diggins-Smith led Dallas with 20 points, but the team had eight players score at least seven points on the night. Meanwhile, Delle Donne (29) and Emma Meesseman (22) combined for 51 of Washington’s 78 points in the loss. It should be noted that Meesseman missed the first two games of the season series while fulfilling overseas commitments for her national team.
June 6 at Dallas
- Mystics 101, Wings 89
- Washington Leaders: Delle Donne: 23 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 blocks, 7-14 FG; Hill/Toliver: 17 points each
- Dallas Leaders: Diggins-Smith: 23 points, 7 assists, 5 turnovers, 6-17 FG; Johnson: 19 points, 8 rebounds, 7-13 FG
June 18 at Washington
- Wings 87, Mystics 83
- Dallas Leaders: Johnson: season-high 27 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 10-15 FG, 2-2 3P; Diggins-Smith: 19 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 5-12 FG, 3-4 3P, 6-6 FT
- Washington Leaders: Delle Donne: 14 points, 4-11 FG, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks; Tayler Hill: 21 points, 4 assists, 6-14 FG, 2-5 3P
Aug. 26 at Washington
- Wings 83, Mystics 78
- Dallas Leaders: Diggins-Smith: 20 points, 7 assists, 2 steals, 6-15 FG, 1-5 3P, 7-9 FT; 8 players with at least 7 points, only 2 in double figures (Christmas-Kelly 12)
- Washington Leaders: Delle Donne: 29 points, 11 rebounds, 9-18 FG, 3-6 3P, 8-9 FT; Meesseman: 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 10-17 FG, 1-3 3P; No other player with more than 6 points
|Team||%2PT (rk)||%3PT (rk)||%FT (rk)|
|Dallas||51.3 (12th)||23.3 (4th)||25.4 (1st)|
|Washington||52.9 (11th)||25.0 (2nd)||22.1 (3rd)|
The Mystics and Wings share similar offensive philosophies – avoid two-point jumpers, use the 3-point shot with high volume and get to the free throw line as often as possible. Washington led all teams in free throw percentage, while Dallas led all teams in both attempts and makes from the charity stripe.
Washington led all teams in 3-point attempts (732), followed closely by Dallas (711). However, neither team shot the three with great accuracy as both finished in the bottom third of the league in 3-point percentage with nearly identical marks (Dallas 31.9%, Washington 31.7%).
How important is the 3-point shot in this matchup? In each of their three meetings during the regular season, the team that finished with more 3-pointers made went on to win the contest.
Game 1 (Washington win)
- Washington: 8-18 (44.4%)
- Dallas: 6-22 (27.3%)
Game 2 (Dallas win)
- Dallas: 8-21 (38.1%)
- Washington: 4-16 (25.0%)
Game 3 (Dallas win)
- Dallas: 6-22 (27.3%)
- Washington: 5-12 (41.7%)
Assists (or lack thereof)
No two teams worked more in isolation sets than the Mystics and Wings this season as both finished with 244 isolation plays according to Synergy. The Mystics were the more effective team in those sets, scoring 0.881 points per possession compared to 0.799 for the Wings.
When it comes to ball movement, the Mystics and Wings rank 10th and 11th, respectively in the league. Outside of Diggins-Smith, who ranks fourth in the WNBA in assists (5.8 per game), the rest of her team averages fewer than 10 combined. On the other hand, Toliver is Washington’s leading distributor (3.4 assists per game, 21st in WNBA), but the Mystics have five players average more than two per game, compared to just two for Dallas.
When it comes to offensive efficiency, the Wings and Mystics are evenly matched – separated by just 0.1 points per 100 possessions. It is on the other side of the court that the divide can be found as the Mystics rank seventh in defensive efficiency (allowing 103.4 points per 100 possessions), which is four points better than the 11th-ranked Wings.
During the regular season, Dallas allowed opponents to shoot a 52.1 effective field goal percentage, tied with Indiana for the lowest mark in the league and three percentage points higher than any other playoff team (Seattle 49.1%). The Mystics on the other hand, allow teams to shoot just 47.8% – the sixth-lowest mark in the league.
Dallas will look to push the pace as often as possible. They led all teams in the regular season with a pace of 81.6 possessions per 40 minutes, more than three and a half more possessions than the Mystics (77.9 pace). With their porous defense, the Wings will look to run and simply outscore their opponents. Can they force the Mystics into a track meet? Or will the more experienced team be able to dictate the game more effectively?
Players To Watch
Skylar Diggins-Smith and Elena Della Donne
The two All-Stars will be the focal point of the offense for their respective teams. Diggins not only led the WNBA in minutes, but she ranked in the top 13 in points (7th, 18.5), assists (4th, 5.8), steals (11th, 1.32) and blocks (13th, 0.82) this season. And she outperformed most of those season averages in her three matchups with Washington, seeing bumps in points (+2.1), assists (+1.5), rebounds (+0.8) and 3-point percentage (+11.8%).
Meanwhile, Delle Donne ranks in the top 13 in points (4th, 19.7), blocks (9th, 1.44) and rebounds (13th, 6.8). But while her scoring saw a similar jump against Dallas (+2.3), she was a less efficient shooter against the Wings (-2.9 FG%, -5.3 3P%) compared to her season averages.
Emma Meesseman and Glory Johnson
Meesseman played in only one game against the Wings this season and put together a great performance – 22 points on 10-17 shooting with six rebounds and three blocks. The 6-4 forward from Belgium scored at least 20 points in four of the final eight games of the season.
As for Johnson, her 18.3 points per game and 56.8 percent shooting from the field against Washington this season were her best marks against any team in the league. However, Johnson did have her least productive outing against Washington (9 points, 11 rebounds) in the only game that Meesseman played. This should be an interesting matchup to watch.