Despite Meesseman’s double-double, Mystics lose to Aces in tight affair

By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse Contributor 

WASHINGTON — Despite game-highs of 24 points and 13 rebounds from Mystics forward Emma Meesseman, the Las Vegas Aces got 20-point performances from A’ja Wilson and Danielle Robinson to earn an 83-77 win over Washington on Wednesday night. 

Aces guard Kayla McBride poured in 14 points, Dearica Hamby had 12 points and 13 boards, and Angel McCoughtry chipped in with 13 points to help their team to its second straight win. 

Furthermore, Las Vegas (3-2) managed to draw 23 fouls while Washington drew 17. The Aces made 23 of 30 free throws while the Mystics were only 7 of 11. 

According to Washington head coach Mike Thibault, Las Vegas’ ability to get to the free-throw was a significant difference down the stretch. 

“We got beat by a good team; we didn’t execute as well. The biggest difference to me is pretty obvious: free-throw line and free throw attempts,” Thibault said. 

The Mystics head coach also acknowledged the Aces’ Robinson, a six-year veteran who had a big night off the bench and scored 88.7% from the free-throw line. 

“Danielle Robinson, I thought, gave them (Aces) a huge lift off their bench. She was terrific tonight on both ends of the court. She pressured us and forced us into some turnovers that they converted on,” Thibault said. “They had more turnovers than us, but they converted on more points off of ours.” 

Washington began the game by outscoring Las Vegas 21-19 in the first quarter, but both teams scored 16 in the second. The Mystics headed to the locker room with a narrow 37-35 lead. 

Early in the third quarter, Meesseman scored an easy basket to give the Mystics a four-point lead. 

Momentum quickly changed on the other end of the court as McCoughtry hit a mid-range jumper, and Hamby nailed a deep 3-pointer to give the Aces their first lead of the night, 40-39. The lead changed six times afterward as the Aces and Mystics traded baskets for the duration of the third quarter. 

As the third quarter drew to a close, Robinson scored a 16-footer, and Wilson hit two free throws that produced a 60-59 advantage for the Aces, giving them much-needed momentum entering the final period. 

Though the game was tight throughout the fourth, the Aces maintained control of the tempo. 

Leilani Mitchell’s converted layup at the start of the fourth gave the Mystics a brief one-point lead before McCoughtry responded with a shot from beyond the arc to put the Aces back on top. 

After McCoughtry’s 3-pointer, the Aces held on to their lead for the rest of the night. Washington’s Myisha Hines-Allen stepped up in the fourth, but Las Vegas’ ability to get to the charity stripe and secure late-game rebounds prevented the Mystics from rallying back. 

Washington drops its second straight contest after opening the season on a three-game winning streak to sit at 3-2. 

Along with Meeseman, Hines-Allen — recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Week — recorded a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds. 

“I think when we can get stops and get out and run, we look really good. When we can play off drag screens and make the defense make decisions early under the shot clock, that’s when we’re at our best,” Mitchell, who finished with 11 points and four assists for the Mystics said. “We started the game that way, and then they (Aces) picked up their pressure, slowed us down, and we didn’t adjust too well. 

The Mystics will have a day to regroup before returning to action against the New York Liberty on Friday. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. on ESPN2. 

Powers nets career-high 27 points as Mystics defeat Sun

Mystics get the best of Connecticut Sun in rematch from the WNBA finals 

By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Courtesy Photo

BRADENTON, Fla. — Washington Mystics guard Aerial Powers scored a team-high 27 points, and Myisha Hines-Allen totaled 16 points and eight rebounds to lead the defending WNBA champions to a slim 94-89 win over the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night.

Emma Meesseman added 12 points, eight assists and six boards while forwards Ariel Atkins chipped in with 16 points to help the Mystics improve to 2-0 on the season.

Powers, a fifth-year player from Michigan State, and Hines-Allen got the Mystics off to a strong start as they took a 26-20 lead at the end of the first quarter.

However, DeWanna Bonner led the Sun’s comeback as they chipped away at Washington’s lead throughout the second. Bonner sank a deep 3-pointer with just under four minutes left in the first half to give Connecticut its first lead. 

In Washington’s next possession, Powers responded with a long-range 3-pointer from the left wing to help the Mystics reclaim the lead. However, Connecticut went on a 13-7 scoring run to take a 52-48 lead at the break.

To open the third, Washington got out in transition as Hines-Allen and Powers continued to produce on the offensive end, helping their team recapture the lead with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. Heading into the fourth, the Mystics held a 76-71 advantage.

Guard Essence Carson hit a corner 3-pointer off a feed from Hines-Allen, and Powers drilled another left-wing 3 to kick off the fourth quarter as Washington rebuilt a double-digit lead early on. The Mystics’ largest lead of the night, 88-73, came off of a breakaway lay-in by Hines-Allen with 5:52 left in the game.

The Sun didn’t surrender, though they were down 15 points with time ticking away. They forced multiple turnovers and went on a 7-0 run to close the gap to 88-80. Late 3-pointers by Jacki Gemelos and Bonner, along with a layup by Natisha Hiedeman, brought Connecticut within two points, 91-89, with about 1:40 remaining.

With a chance to tie the game, Bonner missed a fall-away jumper and a layup. Washington grabbed both rebounds and converted free throws to seal the win.

Bonner led Connecticut with a game-high 29 points with nine rebounds and five assists. Alyssa Thomas played a crucial role for the Sun, recording 28 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. With the loss, the Sun dropped to 0-2 to start the season. 

En route to the big win, Washington connected on 17 of 21 free throws (81%) and capitalized on 19 turnovers by the Sun. Powers was 10 of 14 shooting from the field, including 4 of 6 from beyond the arc. 

Washington hopes to continue the win streak as it faces the Seattle Storm at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

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 to receive salary despite being denied medical exemption

By Demetrius Dillard/ The Sports Pulse Contributor

Courtesy photo/Washington Mystics

WASHINGTON — As the Washington Mystics prepare to compete in a shortened season at IMG Academy in Florida, the status of its star player Elena Delle Donne remains unknown.

Delle Donne requested to be medically excused from playing in the upcoming season due to medical concerns dealing with chronic Lyme disease. However, a panel of doctors hired by the league denied her request.  Delle Donne faced a tough decision: Either play to be paid her salary but possibly exposing her compromised immune system or sitting out the season.

The Mystics elected to help their superstar, announcing that they will pay Delle Donne her full salary (reportedly $215,000), even if she does not play due to coronavirus concerns.

Washington head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said during a media conference call that the organization plans to pay her regardless if she enters the WNBA bubble in Florida, calling her deal a “guaranteed contract.” He also said that the Mystics would support Delle Donne in whatever decision she makes for her health.

“The fact of the matter is that the Mystics organization will never put Elena’s or any of our other players’ health and well-being in jeopardy at any time,” Thibault said.

Delle Donne shared the letter of her request denial with the Mystics, but the team couldn’t release an announcement regarding the situation unless she made a public statement first, Thibault said.

The two-time MVP did go public, writing an article published on The Players’ Tribune about dealing with chronic Lyme disease for more than a decade, claiming she takes 64 pills a day to keep playing basketball.  

As the league began to review her case, Delle Donne said she thought she would be granted an exemption. It would allow her to keep her salary despite not playing this season. After talking to her doctor about her history of flare-ups, Delle Donne was told she was “at high-risk” at contracting and recovering from COVID-19.  

“I didn’t need a panel of league doctors to tell me that my immune system was high-risk — I’ve played my entire career with an immune system that’s high-risk,” Delle Donne said. 

Washington plans to work with Delle Donne in raising awareness about the effects of Lyme disease, Thibault said. She will have access to continue rehabbing her back injury at the team training facility in Washington. 

“As in the past, both with her Lyme disease history and her on-court injuries, all decisions about her ability to play will be made jointly with Elena,” Thibault said. “She is part of our roster, she’s being paid, and is continuing to rehab from her off-season back surgery.

“If at some point later in the season we are all comfortable – I mean all comfortable enough – with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements.”

Forward Tina Charles to miss 2020 WNBA season

Meanwhile, teammate Tina Charles opted out of the season and decided not to travel with the Mystics due to medical concerns stemming from extrinsic asthma. 

According to a team statement released Friday, the forward has been medically excused by the league’s independent panel of physicians from participating in the 2020 season.

“While we are disappointed that Tina will not be with us this summer, we fully understand the reason for her medical exemption and look forward to having her with us next season,” Thibault said. 

“The health of our players takes precedence. There hasn’t been anything normal about playing this season, but we are prepared and excited to play with the group that is here in Florida.”