Mystics’ undefeated streak ends after loss against Chicago

By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse

BRADENTON, Fla. — Two pivotal late-game plays by forward Cheyenne Parker helped the Chicago Sky edge the Washington Mystics, 88-86, on Saturday.

The Sky (3-1) had five players score in double digits for a constant balanced attack on offense. Parker finished with 16 points and six rebounds, Gabby Williams recorded 16 points, nine boards and four assists, and Allie Quigley scored 15.

With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Quigley scored a layup that gave the Sky an 84-83 advantage. The Mystics’ Aerial Powers made 1 of 2 free throws on the next possession to tie the game.

Parker converted a left-hand layup, and Washington’s Ariel Atkins responded with two made free throws to tie it again at 86.

On the ensuing possession, Parker drove baseline and dished it off to Diamond DeShields for a layup to give Chicago an 88-86 lead with 5.9 seconds remaining.

Out of the timeout with 5.6 seconds left on the game clock, Atkins inbounded the ball to Emma Meesseman, who looked for Leilani Mitchell in the corner. Instead, her pass intercepted by Courtney Vandersloot as time expired. The Mystics fall to 3-1 with the loss.

Washington Coach Mike Thibault said his team’s turnovers (14) were “unbelievably costly” but also hinted that fatigue might have played a factor.

“I think we’re tired. Our depth is tough,” Thibault said. “We played tired at times. I’m glad we have the three days off right now to kind of regroup. Playing short-handed is hard. Chicago is good, but we could’ve been better.”

The game was back-and-forth with 10 ties and eight lead changes. At the end of the first, Washington trailed 20-15 but then led by two points (37-35) at halftime.

Mitchell scored 10 of her 12 points for the Mystics in the third quarter, but Chicago outscored Washington 27-25 to tie the game, 62-62, entering the fourth.

The Sky’s offensive fluidity worked to their advantage late in the game as they tallied 10 assists in the fourth while forcing four turnovers to clinch the win.

“This is a great team (Chicago) who loves to run out in transition, and once they got their shots going, it’s kind of hard to stop,” said Myisha Hines-Allen, who was the only double-double performer with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“Our defense wasn’t all there today. We didn’t have each other’s backs like we normally did, so I mean — we just didn’t play Mystics basketball today for the whole game. I think that’s what it boils down to.”

Atkins led the way again with a game-high 24 points for the Mystics while Powers registered 20 points and seven rebounds. Meesseman led Washington with six assists.

After a three-day break, the Mystics will try to bounce back when they square off against the Las Vegas Aces on Aug. 5 at 8 p.m.

Atkins’s 22-point performance leads the way as Mystics cruise past the Storm

By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Courtesy Photo

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.

As 2020 season begins without her, Mystics’ Natasha Cloud fights for social reform

By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Courtesy Photo

WASHINGTON – Over the past two months, Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud has emerged as one of the leading sports figures advocating for social justice amid growing national unrest.

As part of her ongoing commitment to social reform, Cloud said she would forego the 2020 WNBA season. The team’s all-time assists leader will instead add her name to a growing number of professional athletes who will sit out their respective seasons over either health concerns or pursue activist efforts.

The 6-footer said on her social media platforms that her decision to opt-out was for a cause that is bigger than basketball.

“This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career, but I will be foregoing the 2020 WNBA season,” Cloud said. “There are a lot of factors that led to this decision, but the biggest one is that I am more than an athlete.

Without Cloud and several other key players, the Mystics will start their season on Saturday with 10 players. In response to her decision, Mystics head coach and General Manager Mike Thibault said that the team supports Cloud’s decision. 

“Her commitment to social justice issues is of utmost importance to her and, therefore, to the Mystics organization,” Thibault said. “We will continue to be partners with her and all of our players on their commitment to social justice reform as we go forward into this season and beyond.”

On Juneteenth (June 19), Cloud protested alongside several of her teammates and Washington Wizards players in a march from Capitol One Arena to Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. She said in multiple interviews, social media posts and in marches in D.C. and Philadelphia that she values her platform as an athlete-activist during this time in U.S. history.

Also, Cloud made history as the first female ever to sign a shoe deal with Converse. The company acknowledged Cloud’s story on The Players’ Tribune, published shortly after the death of George Floyd, and her social justice advocacy as the primary reason the company decided to sign her. 

“Cloud is known for extending her influence through leadership efforts that place emphasis on being a voice for the voiceless, specifically using her platform to speak out against the racial injustices that are killing Black people in America, while also advocating for equality for women and the LGBTQ+ community and working to guide youth in her communities,” Converse said in a statement.

“As with all members of the Converse family, our goal is to serve as both a canvas for their creative vision and to spark progress in their communities. We look forward to amplifying her voice for the causes she believes in and will keep you updated on our community efforts following our recent commitment.”

All the acclaim for Cloud, a native of Broomall, Pennsylvania, is coming after she averaged a career-best 9 points and 5.6 assists in 2019 to help the Mystics to their first WNBA title.

Despite her career progressing forward, Cloud said there is more critical now than ever before to get involved in social causes.

“I have a responsibility to myself, to my community, and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball,” Cloud said. “I will instead continue the fight on the front lines for social reform because, until black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.”

Mystics Delle Donne, Charles placed in medical protocol

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Courtesy photos/Washington Mystics

WASHINGTON – Washington Mystics stars Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles did not travel with their teammates to start The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) preseason as they await a decision from the league’s medical panel to be medically excused from playing, the team announced Wednesday.

Both players were scheduled to travel with Washington to Bradenton, Florida, to start the shortened season. An independent panel of doctors selected players based on past health-related concerns and will go over their conditions to determine if they can receive a medical excuse to compete this season.

Last season’s MVP, Delle Donne has battled with chronic Lyme Disease, a tick-borne illness, throughout her career since being diagnosed during her college days with UConn in 2008. 

She has dealt with multiple setbacks caused by the disease, compromising her immune system, which could put her at risk if she contracts the coronavirus.

During a 2016 interview with ESPN The Magazine, Delle Donne said she takes “around 50 supplements a day” and manages her diet to handle possible future flareups.

In a statement released on her Twitter account, Delle Donne said she is waiting for a risk assessment from the league to determine if she will be allowed to play.

“Missing my teammates but health and safety are the priority,” Delle Donne said.

Charles, a seven-time WNBA All-Star center, was traded from the New York Liberty to Washington after averaging 16.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in 33 games.

Washington Mystics center Tina Charles.

“Having coached Tina before in Connecticut, I know what a huge impact she can have on the game every single night,” Washington Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault said. “Her ability to score inside and out will make our offense even more dangerous than in the past.”

It is unknown at this time why the medical panel called Charles. Charles has not released a statement on her status.

If cleared, both players will receive their full salaries for the upcoming season and join their teammates in the WNBA “bubble” in the IMG Academy to start preparing for the season, which is scheduled to be in late July. They can still opt out before a decision is made or if the panel does not grant medical waivers. If they opt-out, they will not be paid, according to the league’s policy.

If Della Donne and Charles cannot gain clearance, Washington will be down to 10 players. They were already missing Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders, who opted out of playing in the abbreviated season.

Point guard Kristi Toliver elected to sign as a free agent with the Los Angeles Sparks during the offseason, leaving Washington with only two remaining starters from last season’s championship run: forward Emma Meesseman, the 2019 Finals MVP, and guard Ariel Atkins.

Replacing both players will not be easy either. Last season, Della Donna became the first WNBA player to shoot over 50% (51.5%), 40% from the 3-point line (43%), and 90% at the free-throw line (97.4%) in rout to leading Washington to its first WNBA Championship.

Together with Charles and Meesseman in the frontcourt would have made the Mystics one of the favorites to win the title this season. The WNBA has not announced when the panel will look at each player’s case or when a decision will be made.

Charles rejoins Thibault in hopes of another championship run with the Mystics

By Brooks Warren/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – The defending WNBA champions have gone all-in on their championship window after trading Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, and their 12th draft pick to acquire Tina Charles from the New York Liberty in a three-team trade that involved the Dallas Wings.

In her five seasons in New York, Turner cemented herself as an all-time great, becoming its all-time leading scorer last season. The only thing missing on Charles’ resume is a championship.

After missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, Charles declined to sign her core designation option. Going into her 10th season and at 31 years of age, Charles isn’t interested in being apart of a rebuilding project with the Liberty.

“Tina’s in a position where she wants to compete for a championship sooner than later as an older player,” Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. “It’s been a couple of weeks in the making. [The Liberty] clearly were motivated to get it done before the draft so that the draft picks would play a factor for them this week.”

According to NBCSports, the former MVP was granted permission to talk with the Mystics during the offseason to negotiate a trade to play for Washington.

With the Mystics, Charles has a chance to reunite with her former coach. The two achieved some success during their time together with the Connecticut Sun, namely during 2012, when Charles won MVP and led the Liberty on a deep playoff run before losing in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual champion Indiana Fever.

“Tina Charles is a name that will forever be synonymous with New York basketball,” said Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb said in a statement. “Over the past six seasons, Tina has cemented herself not only in the Liberty record books but in the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere due to her tireless and selfless work in the community. On behalf of the New York Liberty organization, I thank Tina and wish her well in Washington.”

That was their last season together after the front office fired Thibault after a 10-year tenure that included two runs to the Finals. Thibault quickly got back on his feet and found immediate success with the Mystics, making back-to-back finals appearances and finally getting over the hump while ripping the monkey off his back, beating the Sun for their first title in 2019.

The addition of Turner will help to offset the losses of Walker-Kimbrough and Kristi Toliver, who signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Sparks. Toliver is the only player to leave the team after unrestricted free agents Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman resigned for four years and for an undisclosed amount, respectively.

Although her role is undefined, Turner joins a historic Mystics team that went a league-best 26-8 and reset the record books after finishing with the highest offensive rating in league history at 112.9. Delle Donne joined the exclusive 50-40-90 club last season on her way to her second MVP after averaging 19.5 points, grabbing 8.3 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game.