“Of course you get hyped when you get a great player in here,” Delle Donne said of Wilson. “A great team in here, too. I think that’s the biggest thing — knowing that they’re playing a different brand of basketball this season, which makes A’ja be able to play in space and other great players play in space, too. So it’s more just like, you know, what a great team they are.”
The Mystics improved to 3-0 and have the league’s best record. The Aces fell to 2-1.
The MVP matchup was in focus immediately. On the first possession, Wilson took the ball on the block and got Delle Donne to bite on an up-and-under move, but Delle Donne recovered and blocked the shot. On the other end, Delle Donne knocked down a three-pointer over Wilson. That tone didn’t last long — Wilson came back with a jumper of his own and a layup over Delle Donne to give Las Vegas a 9-7 lead.
Last time out: With Natasha Cloud leading the ‘Elite Eight,’ shorthanded Mystics win again
The Aces used a 17-2 run to take a 26-11 lead, and they were up 49-36 at halftime. Delle Donne—like the rest of the Mystics—was fairly quiet at that point, and Wilson was two rebounds shy of a double-double. But all of that changed after the break; Washington outscored Las Vegas 24-7 in a dominating third quarter and kept it going in the fourth.
Delle Donne finished with a team-high 19 points and added seven rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and a steal. Wilson had 10 points — none after halftime — as well as 11 rebounds, three assists and four blocks.
Aces Coach Becky Hammon sat her starters for much of the fourth quarter, and Delle Donne scored eight points in the period to help put things away. She showed off about three moves before finding some daylight for a bank shot to give the Mystics a 14-point lead, followed that with a pair of free throws and then made a fadeaway that gave Washington an 82-67 edge.
“It hit a moment where I knew how crucial each possession was going to be,” Delle Donne said. “And I felt like I was able to attack and either score or get crowded. And that’s always a great option — scoring or getting fouled. So I just felt like I had something I could exploit.”
Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ win:
Tianna Hawkins knows challenges and rewards of being a mom in WNBA
Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud was sidelined Tuesday and is likely to miss more games after she was placed in the league’s coronavirus health and safety protocols. Cloud needs consecutive negative tests to be cleared to return; Thibault said most players have taken five to 10 days to test out. Cloud began to show symptoms Monday, he added.
“Shoutout to the @WNBA for flying us commercial during a pandemic. (And no mask mandates) Go mystics,” Cloud tweeted during the game.
With Cloud out, Rui Machida made her first start in her third WNBA game. She and Myisha Hines-Allen debuted a pregame handshake that ended with the 5-foot-4 Japanese star leaping to high-five the 6-1 Hines-Allen before Hines-Allen crouched to low-five Machida.
The Mystics’ diminutive point guards—Machida and 5-6 Katie Benzan—shined in the most extensive action of their brief WNBA careers. Machida made some much-needed jumpers as she finished with nine points and four assists in 29 minutes.
In her second game with the Mystics, Benzan, a former Maryland star, played 15 minutes and knocked down three three-pointers on her way to 12 points. Benzan was the nation’s top three-point shooter in the 2020-21 college season, and the home crowd erupted with each make Tuesday.
“A lot of fun just to get out there and have some fun against good competition,” she said. “It’s just a good team win — everybody showing out, even with a depleted roster.”
Thibault and Delle Donne said the Mystics essentially ignored the game plan in the first half and that led to a significant deficit. Washington had no answer for Jackie Young (who finished with 19 points) and Kelsey Plum (18), and the Aces shot 57.6 percent in the half.
The Mystics’ defense picked up after halftime, and the ball started moving on the other end. Hines-Allen (15 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) and Ariel Atkins (13 points, eight rebounds) got going as the point guards pushed the pace. Washington rolled into the fourth quarter, opening on a 20-8 run with everyone getting involved.
“We couldn’t have looked much worse than we did in the first quarter and part of the second quarter,” Thibault said. “My question at halftime was, ‘Are we going to stop just one thing that they do?’ They didn’t stop anything in the first half.
“That’s just the nature of the people we have drafted, traded for, recruited. They have toughness about them. … Once we kind of righted the ship, the rhythm came back to the game. I think it says a lot about our mental toughness right now.”