By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse Contributor
BRADENTON, Fla. — An early-season faceoff between the 2018 and 2019 WNBA champions was a glimpse of what some expect to be a possible 2020 finals matchup.
Washington Mystics forward Ariel Atkins recorded 22 points, a game-high performance that included five 3-pointers, to lift her team to an 89-71 victory over the Seattle Storm on Thursday at IMG Academy.
The result was special for Atkins, who said she felt good leading the Mystics to the win on her 24th birthday.
“It feels good to be playing down here right now, especially what we’re playing for. Especially having Breonna Taylor’s name all over our season,” Atkins said. “It just feels good to put her spotlight on and for people to be watching us, and to be seeing her name all the time.”
With the return of 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and star point guard Sue Bird from injuries last season, the Storm will likely contend for another title run this season. Despite missing multiple stars, Washington’s strong start to the season has raised its expectations for postseason success.
Myisha Hines-Allen continued a strong start to the season, contributing with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists to help the Mystics remain undefeated at 3-0 this season. Guard Lelani Mitchell had team highs in assists (six) and steals (four) in addition to 12 points.
The Mystics got off to a superb start offensively, connecting 10 of 16 field goals in the first half to take a 21-14 lead after the first that blossomed to a 50-32 advantage at halftime.
The Mystics’ largest lead of the evening came when Mitchell found Hines-Allen for an easy layup, expanding their advantage to 25 points (69-44) with about three minutes to go in the third.
Washington remained efficient in transition and held its ground defensively to maintain the comfortable lead in the second half on its way to the 18-point victory.
While the Storm outrebounded their opponent 38 to 36, they committed 18 turnovers to Washington’s nine.
Forward Emma Meesseman added 10 points, five boards and four assists while Aerial Powers poured in nine points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Mystics.
Bird was held to only five points on 2 of 7 shooting from the field, while Stewart registered 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Storm (2-1) picked up their first loss of the season. Sami Whitcomb had 11 points off the bench for Seattle.
“They’re (Storm) a really good basketball team, they have really high IQ – especially defensively, so I was really proud of our offense tonight,” Atkins said. “And defensively, I’m really proud of what we did. I think we can be a really good defensive team if we stay solid and don’t foul.”
Washington will aim to continue its early-season momentum as it returns to action Saturday at 6 p.m. against Kahleah Copper and the Chicago Storm.