“Our chemistry is starting to come along. Of course there are some things we still need to get better at. But, we’re figuring out each other, we’re figuring out what works for us, what doesn’t work for us.” said Ariel Atkins as the Washington Mystics took down the Los Angeles Sparks 89 to 71, on June 10, 2021.
“With [Natasha Cloud] being a leader and our point guard, we kind of look for her to set the tone,” said guard Shavonte Zellous. Ahead of the game against the Los Angeles Sparks, Natasha Cloud was out on the court knocking down buckets, setting the tone.
In between the Las Vegas Aces and Minnesota Lynx games earlier this season, Natasha Cloud and WNBA-veteran Tina Charles called a players-only team meeting.
“It really showed that everyone does care about this season,” Tina said. “Everyone does believe that we can come out on top this season regardless of Elena and Emma and Alysha Clark not being here. So it was really great that everyone is very optimistic and everyone is engaged with the season and we were all on the same page about our third quarters and coming out of halftime needing to be better and controlling our body language and the energy that we put out.”
Despite Alysha Clark‘s foot injury, she’s still impacting the team off the court. Alysha, a 2020 All-Defensive Team player, makes her impact on the sideline. The Mystics’ defensive rating – 92.1 – continues to improve. They’ve only allowed 25.0 points in the paint, a league-low, in their most recent two games.
“Alysha Clark is the ultimate competitor and winner. She is able to impact the game at both ends of the court as well as provide incredible leadership in the locker room,” Mike Thibault said of the two-time WNBA champion in her introductory press call.
Speaking of defense, Tina Charles is providing non-stop scary hours on both ends of the court for the Mystics. She recapped the team’s performance on the defensive end against the Sparks: “I thought we did as good of a job as we could just with the quick turn around coming from the last game.”
Tina Charles had 20 points and 10 rebounds on this night, to pass Lisa Leslie for second on the WNBA’s career double-double list. Furthermore, she’s put up an average of 25.2 points per game this season, which leads the league by a wide margin, and she is currently on pace to become just the second player in WNBA history to average over 25 points per game, the other being Diana Taurasi in 2006.
Ariel Atkins reflected on playing with Tina, when asked why things are clicking between them right now particularly well on the court, “I think we had time to play together. She’s figuring out where the doubles are coming from. We have our backside post who’s making the right cuts at the right time, and she’s either hitting me on the kick out or hitting our post on the dive. So [Tina’s] doing a really good job of getting her eyes up. And again us being able to talk to her and tell her where the double is coming from. So really communication has been a big key for us.”
The duo of Tina Charles and Myisha Hines-Allen gives teams a lot to think about. For example, the night before as the Mystics took on the Minnesota Lynx, head coach Cheryl Reeve said, “I don’t have a simple answer on how we’re going to slow [Charles],” on a media call ahead of the teams squaring off. She mentioned being reluctant to double-team Tina because of the threat of Myisha cutting to the rim—and when that exact situation unfolded late in the second quarter, Cheryl immediately called timeout to try to fix what was broken, according to The Next Hoops.
Ariel Atkins had back to back threes to start the night. In fact, she had the Mystics’ first 8 points. She got herself to the line, where she continued to demonstrate she’s an exceptional free-throw shooter – with an 89.66% shooting percentage this year, and 85.22% career free-throw percentage (stats via Across the Timeline).
As Kareem Copeland for the Washington Post wrote, “in her fourth WNBA season, the Mystics’ Ariel Atkins is having a career year.”
Ariel reflected, “…they try to put the most active defender on me. Which it’s out of respect and I appreciate that and I’m thankful for that – thankful to be a focal point on the scout. But my team puts me in this position, coach put me in this position. And I’m thankful for the opportunity for able for people to be like ‘nah we gotta guard her.’ It definitely feels good to be able to do this for my team. And at the end of the day it’s really about just finding those open looks and making sure I stay aggressive because at the end of the day if we all get better and we all be consistent at what we’re trying to do here our team gets better as a whole.”
As told by Natasha Cloud, “[Ariel] is the best 2-guard in this league, she is the best 2-guard in this league period, on both ends of the floor. There’s not any debate, she is an all star, she is an all star period.”
Washington Mystics’ head coach Mike Thibault reflected similarly, “Ariel’s pretty locked in right now. I think just her habits are good as far as her shooting routine on a daily basis. I think the game each year has slowed down a little bit for her so she sees the game a bit better. She and I have talked about breaking the game into segments as far as scoring, and I think she’s seeing she can be aggressive and you know once she gets going then she can make some plays for other people too.”
Since his introduction as the new head coach and general manager of the Washington Mystics back on December 18, 2012, Mike Thibault has helped foster key players’ growth. Forward Elena Delle Donne earned her second Most Valuable Player honor and forward Emma Meesseman became the first reserve player in WNBA history to be named Finals Most Valuable Player. He also remains the winningest coach in WNBA history.
In the district of change, the Mystics rise to the moment. “[Natasha] sees her identity first in defending another team’s really good player. When she locks in on defense and pushes the pace for the Mystics on offense, ‘the rest of it falls into place.'” Mike Thibault said in a media call.
Ranked 5th in the East for the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup, with 1 win and 3 loses, the Mystics play the Atlanta Dream tomorrow — providing another chance to continue to rise.
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Published June 12, 2021