Hoping to bounce back from a disappointing two-game trip out west, the Washington Mystics failed to regroup at home Wednesday against the Phoenix Mercury, losing, 91-68, with star forward Elena Delle Donne sidelined by a broken nose.
The Mystics’ loss came in front of a crowd of 15,377, which consisted primarily of singing, shrieking campers from the Washington area for the team’s annual “camp day” at Capital One Arena. Despite a strong first quarter, the Mystics were unable to stop the Mercury’s Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner, who scored 25 and 22 points, respectively, in the midday matchup.
Forward Tianna Hawkins provided a bright spot for the Mystics offensively, scoring a team-high 24 points as she tried to fill the gap left by Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman, who is away competing for the Belgian national team. But Hawkins’s contributions were not enough to overcome the Mercury’s height advantage and a defensive performance in which “everything was wrong,” according to Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault.
“I don’t really have a lot of positive to say about a game like that,” Thibault said. “When you score 24 points in the second half and you don’t defend, you’re not going to win too much. We kind of felt sorry for ourselves a little today.”
The Mystics (9-5) faced the Mercury (7-6) for the first time this season in suboptimal conditions, with Delle Donne and Meesseman out and the game played away from the team’s new home, Entertainment and Sports Arena, to better accommodate the camp crowds. But players did not make excuses for the loss.
“[Griner] had [35 points] on all of us last year, and we still won two out of the three games,” said LaToya Sanders, who defended Griner for most of Wednesday’s game. “So it’s not like her getting big numbers is the problem. She’s always going to get hers, but we didn’t play good defense on everybody else.”
While the Mystics struggled to defend the five-time WNBA all-star and her Mercury teammates, Washington’s shooting performance also fell flat. The team shot 21.7 percent from beyond the three-point line Wednesday — 12 percent below its season average.
Washington started strong, spreading the ball between guards Kristi Toliver and Ariel Atkins and feeding Hawkins under the basket. The Mystics led 27-22 at the end of the first quarter, but the Mercury pulled ahead in the second after a series of missed shots by the Mystics, and a 10-0 run midway through the quarter helped give the Mercury a 49-44 halftime lead.
“Obviously missing Elena and Emma and stuff is a blow, but every team goes through that,” Thibault said. “I can accept a loss, too. Those are going to happen. But I didn’t like the way we lost today.”
Thibault said he would have liked to see the team get more looks for Toliver — the Mystics’ third-leading scorer after Delle Donne and Meesseman — who had just seven points on six shot attempts. Delle Donne remains questionable for Saturday’s game against the Las Vegas Aces, but Thibault said Meesseman will make her return.
Without their leading scorers on the court, the Mystics — who no longer have the league’s best record following Wednesday’s loss and the Las Vegas Aces’ win against Indiana — hoped to use the game as an opportunity to get back to normal after a strange stint on the road.
On Friday, an arena-shaking earthquake caused officials to suspend the game between the Mystics and Las Vegas with Washington leading 51-36 at halftime. The second half has yet to be rescheduled. Two days later, the team played in Los Angeles, where Delle Donne suffered her injury on the first play of Sunday’s 98-81 loss to the Sparks.
Wednesday did provide a comeback moment for Hawkins, who shot 0 for 7 from the three-point line Sunday.
“My main focus into this game was just coming in and playing hard in the absence of Elena,” said Hawkins, who also notched a team-high seven rebounds.
Unfortunately for the Mystics, her performance wasn’t nearly enough.
"Tianna had a terrific game,” Thibault said. “Shame to waste it.”