SEATTLE – What perspective do the Washington Mystics have on this series as they trail 0-2 with the Finals shifting to the East Coast for Game 3 on Wednesday and potentially a Game 4 on Friday?
The half-full mindset will look at Sunday’s Game 2 and see how the Mystics gave themselves a chance to win on the road. How they had the ball in their hands with 16 seconds to play and trailing by only one point before falling just short in a 75-73 loss at KeyArena.
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They will see their improved defense that forced 15 Seattle turnovers and converted those into 17 points. They will see that Elena Delle Donne had her highest scoring game (17 points) since she came back from injury midway through the semifinals.
They will see that they lost by just two points despite missing all 16 of their 3-point attempts. The Mystics ranked third in the WNBA this season with an average of 8.4 3-pointers made per game, but are shooting just 3-for-37 in this series through two games. Surely, they won’t stay ice-cold when they get back home.
They will say that Seattle did what they were supposed to do by winning their games at home and now it is time for the Mystics to do the same over the next two games in order to force a fifth and deciding game back in Seattle next Sunday.
The half-empty mindset will look back at Game 2 as a missed opportunity to steal a game on the road. Washington entered this series knowing it had to win at least one game in Seattle in order to win its first WNBA championship and would have loved to head back to the DMV with a split. Seattle has lost just four games at home all year, and Washington was three points away from getting that much-needed win.
They will remember Breanna Stewart missing two free throws with 16.9 seconds left that kept the door open, before Washington’s final possession ended in a jump ball. Seattle controlled the jump and was able to run seven precious seconds off the clock before the Mystics could foul with 1.8 seconds remaining. That was not enough time for the Mystics to get a decent shot at the basket since they had no timeouts remaining.
Listening to Kristi Toliver and Elena Delle Donne after the game, you could hear them leaning toward the half-full side of the scale.
“I mean, anything we did today was going to be better than what we did in the last game,” said Delle Donne. “We came out and we were ourselves. We applied ball pressure. We had some people come in who really stepped up for us, and yeah, I mean, that’s how we play. That was us. So obviously it’s really frustrating to not come away with the win, but we were able to see a lot of things, and we get to build on it for these next three games.”
Toliver, who played all 40 minutes and hit a pair of clutch contested jumpers in the final 75 seconds to keep Washington close, knows her team took a step in the right direction on Sunday even if it didn’t result in a W.
“Oh, shoot, I didn’t know we were 0-for-16,” said Toliver when she was told of Washington’s 3-point struggles. “That’s a huge factor in the game, too. As a 3-point shooting team, we need some of those to go in, and we’re going home, we feel really good, we feel really positive.
“We’re going to be better. We were better from the day before. We’re going to be better when we get home, and we’re going to knock down shots.”
Even Seattle’s Sue Bird was shocked to hear that Mystics came up completely empty from the 3-point line on Sunday. She knows Seattle can’t count on that happening again.
“If they didn’t make any 3s tonight, they were clearly making all kind of shots other than that,” said Bird. “So its not like you can just run them off [the 3-point line] and give them anything they want, but we’re very aware that they are deadly from out there and they can do it in bunches just like us.
“So you have to be conscious of it when you’re rotating on defense and who you’re rotating to and what not. I didn’t realize that [they didn’t hit a 3-pointer]. I mean, that actually says even more about their game plan that they were able to stay in a game without hitting a three. I don’t think we had a ton either [Seattle was 6-of-23], but still that’s six extra points. But its hard to stay in games when you’re a 3-point shooting team and you don’t hit them so it says a lot about their play, it really does.”
The half-full mindset will look back at the second quarter of this game and how the Mystics responded when it appeared that Seattle may run away with Game 2 the same way they did with Game 1. After leading by nine points at the end of the first quarter, the Storm opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer from Sami Whitcomb to give them their biggest lead of the game at 12 points and had the 14,212 KeyArena fans buzzing. From that point on, the Mystics outscored the Storm 24-8 for the remainder of the half to take a four-point lead into the locker room.
Delle Donne scored 10 of her 17 points in that second quarter as she continues to find ways to score and be effective despite being slowed down by her injured left knee.
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 10, 2018
“Someone like Elena, she plays at her own pace, which is what makes her so hard to guard,” said Bird. “She lulls you at times. I think with the knee injury, its definitely impacted her explosiveness, but it seems as if she might be adjusting, understanding what she can and can’t do and just doing things she can do.
“What you saw today was a player being very deliberate. I think she’s deliberate as-is in her game, but maybe now even just a little more so because of her knee. But yeah she played really well.”
Delle Donne would score only five points in the second half as she shot 2-of-5 from the field and only got one free throw attempt against the Storm defense. After the game, Delle Donne already had a diagnosis for the problem and an idea for the solution heading into Game 3.
“I think we fell in love too much with me getting the ball on the block,” she said. “I’m more than just a back-to-the-basket type of player. Playing in space opens up my teammates, also opens myself up. We’ve got to find a way to not become one-dimensional and just try to force it in.”
One major issue that the Mystics improved upon from Game 1 to Game 2 was their turnovers. After live-ball turnovers killed them in the first half of Game 1 and put them in a hole too deep to climb out of, the Mystics took much better care of the ball in Game 2. Through the first three quarters, the Mystics had committed just two turnovers compared to forcing 11 from the Storm.
However, in the fourth quarter, when the game was in the balance and going back and forth, the Mystics committed five turnovers as they missed opportunities to cut into the lead or overtake the Storm late in the game.
“Yeah, we weren’t on the same page,” said Toliver of the fourth-quarter miscues. “The way they were covering us, we weren’t giving releases, giving outlets when they were either trapping or being physical with the Elena on the block. Those are things we can fix.
“Obviously you don’t want those kind of things to happen in the fourth quarter with the game so close, but honestly, that’s part of what the difference of the game was. If we can clean that up, value the ball, we talked about it at the beginning of the game of just valuing it for 40 minutes. We got to about 35. Clean it up — we’re better, we’re smarter — we’ll be okay.”
Washington made a marked improvement from Game 1 to Game 2, and despite being down 0-2, this feels like a much closer series than it did 24 hours ago. Now it’s the Mystics’ turn to host a Finals game and give their fans something to cheer about as they look to keep their season alive and force another trip to the Pacific Northwest next weekend.