While his players talked of a fresh start throughout training camp, new Washington Mystics General Manager and Coach Mike Thibault warned that a return to glory would be a long term goal for this franchise. He wasn’t kidding, either.
Old habits, it appears, will take a lot longer than one offseason to fix. Bogged down by a litany of turnovers, the Mystics lost their home opener to the Atlanta Dream, 73-63, in front of 8,938 fans at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon.
Forward Crystal Langhorne tallied a team-high 15 points and point guard Ivory Latta added 14 points and seven assists, but it mattered little given how sloppy Washington played throughout the afternoon. After averaging nearly 17 turnovers per game a season ago when they finished with the worst record in the WNBA, the Mystics committed 21 Sunday and watched the Dream score 24 points off of them.
At times, though, the miscues were almost comical. Washington had 10 turnovers in the first quarter, and didn’t have more points than giveaways until midway through the second. The Mystics only registered more field goals when they went on a brief surge in the third quarter.
All 10 Washington players that took the court in the first half had at least one turnover by halftime, and the Mystics (1-1) entered the locker room down by 13.
“I don’t know what that was. I couldn’t even explain it, but it wasn’t good,” Latta said. “Trust me, when we got here at halftime, [Thibault] let it be known it wasn’t good. We’ve got to protect the ball.”
It wasn’t just poor ballhandling, though. Thibault has three tenets he hopes will improve this team over the long haul — turnovers, rebounding and free throw differential — and the Mystics lost in all three categories. The Dream (3-0) scored 19 second-chance points and Washington didn’t get to the foul line until four minutes remained in the third quarter.
But Thibault was particularly perturbed his team didn’t follow instructions early on, when Atlanta jumped all over the Mystics with an 11-0 run.
“They’re not a great jump shooting team, but at points in the first quarter it was just hard to believe given what the scouting report is and what you have to do to play against them,” Thibault said of Atlanta. “Maybe the only way you become believers is to go through the experience. . . . I knew when I took this [job] it wasn’t gonna be a miracle overnight, but I expected some of those things to be better than they were today.”
Nonetheless, Washington did claw its way back into the game twice. In the first half, rookie Emma Meesseman (eight points, five rebounds) provided a spark off the bench as the Mystics closed the gap to six. A 16-3 third-quarter run in which Washington successfully fed Langhorne in the post — “We had plays called for her in the first quarter and the ball didn’t even reach her,” Thibault noted — trimmed Atlanta’s lead to four.
But momentum would be short-lived with the Mystics struggling to hang on to the ball. Atlanta forward Angel McCaughtry, the WNBA’s leading scorer last season, helped put the game out of reach for good during a 10-0 surge to start the fourth quarter.
McCaughtry finished with a team-high 15 points, including 12 after halftime, to go along with five assists and four steals. Center Erika de Souza added 14 points for the Dream, which acquired former Mystics point guard Jasmine Thomas (Oakton) and hired former Washington coach Julie Plank as an assistant this offseason.
“Hopefully we’ll be quick learners,” Thibault said. “If not, we’re gonna have to dig in a little.”