Photo by Robert Banez for The Sports Capitol
Storm Surge: Misfiring Mystics lose Game 1 of WNBA Finals
BY BEN STANDIG | SEPT. 7 , 2018
TSC HEADQUARTERS — The Washington Mystics’ first WNBA Finals game in franchise history could have gone better.
Three thoughts from Friday’s 89-76 Game 1 loss:
* The Mystics had two players in the 2018 All-Star game, Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver. The top-seeded Storm were represented by the trio of Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. A cursory look at the box score reveals which side’s leaders played at that top level. Watching the game showed a truly lopsided battle.
Seattle’s big three combined for 47 points on 17-of-26 shooting with 14 assists. Washington’s dynamic duo clanked their way to 15 points on 6-of-22 from the field.
Delle Donne, still limited after suffering a left knee bone bruise in Game 2 of the semifinal series against Atlanta, never found a rhythm. Her 10 points – 10 below her season average – represented her fewest in any game since Aug. 5.
“Let’s talk about my knee after this series,” Delle Donne responded to a postgame question about her physical condition. “Excuses are for losers. If I wanted to be 100 percent, I wouldn’t have come back. I knew coming into this thing, I was going to have to figure out a different way to play.”
Defenses must respect the 6-foot-5 scoring savant when she takes the court regardless of her physical status. Delle Donne’s presence in Games 4 and 5 against Atlanta – both wins – opened the floor for Toliver. Seattle sent waves in Toliver’s direction and the shooting guard struggled throughout, finishing 2-for-11 from the field – missing seven of eight from beyond the arc – with three turnovers.
“They’ve got a lot of length on defense,” Delle Donne told reporters postgame. “They started trapping Kristi from the start.”
It’s unclear what Washington will receive from Delle Donne this series, especially when clearly less than 100 percent and facing a formidable defender in Seattle’s Natasha Howard. It’s Toliver, a former champion with the Los Angeles Sparks, who must step up. She didn’t come close, particularly in the first half. This isn’t the first time a Toliver subpar performance came during a losing effort.
In Washington’s three playoff losses this season, Toliver is 9-of-37 (24.3) from the field and 3-of-22 (13.6) on 3-pointers with 28 points (9.3), 11 assists and nine turnovers. In four wins, 15.0 ppg on 41.8 FG% (23-of-55), 10-of-29 on 3-pointers with 21 assists and four turnovers.
Rookie Ariel Atkins (23 points, 10-for-14 from the field) provided enough to give the Mystics a needed third option.
* Misfiring wasn’t the only issue.
Washington committed eight of its 12 turnovers early as Seattle stormed out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter. Several of those mistakes, identified as “casual” by Mystics coach Mike Thibault during a first-half interview on the game broadcast, directly contributed to the always-running Storm. The Mystics wanted to push the pace in the prior series. Seattle ran them off the court in Game 1. Washington’s turnovers helped.
“They didn’t do anything we didn’t anticipate,” Thibault said after the loss. “We just didn’t handle it well.”
Overall, the Storm dominated the Mystics in fast break points (18-0).
* The play of center LaToya Sanders, particularly on the defensive end, helped turn the Mystics into a title contender. The shot blocker provided little presence on either end in Game 1. She didn’t buckle under the pressure – but is dealing with a busted knuckle on her shooting hand, according to a report during the ESPN broadcast.
Sanders finished 0-of-3 from the field in just under 17 minutes of scoreless basketball with three rebounds and zero blocks. The Mystics have depth spots, most notably at guard and along the wing. There isn’t another interior presence on the defensive end like Sanders. Seattle attacked the paint often and finished with a 46-28 points in the paint advantage.
Extra point — Game 2 tips Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.