Dee Brown expected a chance to relax when Chamique Holdsclaw finally sat down late in the first half against San Antonio on Thursday night. Relieved that the Washington Mystics star had finally come out of the game, the San Antonio coach sat down in his chair, sighed and stretched out his legs.
Then Chasity Melvin jogged in to replace Holdsclaw, and Brown immediately stood back up. "Can you believe this?" he said to an assistant. "They're bringing in another all-star."
Through nine games, the Washington bench has left several opposing coaches similarly slack-jawed. Despite the Mystics' mediocre 4-5 record, the team's bench has emerged as the WNBA's most experienced, and productive, group of reserves.
Thanks to strong play from their reserves, the Mystics have won two games in a row for the first time this season heading into today's game against the Connecticut Sun at 4 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
"We have the best bench in the league," Coach Michael Adams said. "Our bench is the difference-maker. We've got players sitting there that could be starting on a lot of other teams in this league."
Some of those players have been starters. Tamicha Jackson, Coco Miller and Melvin -- all reserves -- started every game they played last season. Melvin and Miller both ranked in the WNBA's top 20 in scoring; each averaged about 13 points.
Forward Aiysha Smith shoots at a higher percentage than all but one starter and Kiesha Brown, a steady guard, averages about five points despite playing less than 15 minutes per game.
"When you take those five against us starters in practice, it can be super even," Holdsclaw said. "You could flip-flop the starters with the reserves and our team could still be pretty competitive. They contribute almost as much as we do."
Sometimes, the reserves contribute even more. In a 62-60 win over the New York Liberty on Sunday, Washington's reserves scored 32 points, prompting New York Coach Richie Adubato to say, "We could stop the starters, but we just couldn't stop the rest of them."
Against San Antonio on Thursday, Washington built a commanding second-half lead in its 76-60 win with Miller, Brown and Melvin on the floor.
So far this season, the Mystics' reserves have outscored their opponents' reserves seven times, better than any other group of non-starters in the league.
"Our goal is to go in there and make sure our team doesn't miss a beat," Melvin said. "We try to keep things steady, and sometimes we can even give a bit of a boost."
"Some of us used to be starters in this league," Jackson said. "We can all still play at that level, even if we're coming off the bench. No other team has that like we do. That's just something that's totally unique."