The latest player sidelined is 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, who missed the game with a shoulder sprain suffered in Wednesday’s win over Atlanta. Coach/General Manager Mike Thibault said she is doubtful to play against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday night.
Meesseman has had a choppy season as she became the focal point of opposing defenses while the Mystics play without Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles and Natasha Cloud in the WNBA bubble. In 11 games, Meesseman has averaged 12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and a team-high 4.5 assists. The forward’s scoring average is her lowest since 2015, but the rebounds and assists are career highs. Tianna Hawkins started in Meesseman’s place Friday, scoring 11 points.
Meesseman’s injury isn’t expected to be long term, but the Mystics will be without guard-forward Aerial Powers the rest of the way. She suffered a hamstring injury in the first week of August; Thibault said the plan is to send her home from the bubble Saturday so she can begin to rehab. Powers was leading the team with a career-high 16.3 points and had been an emotional, energetic leader.
Marina Mabrey made a three-pointer to give Dallas a 5-2 lead Friday, and from there the Wings never trailed until 1:53 remained in regulation. The Mystics were missing plenty of offense, but their defense was what buried them early: The Wings shot 56.2 percent in the first half while building a 56-36 lead by halftime. Dallas shot 9 for 15 from behind the arc in the first half; Kayla Thornton finished the night with four three-pointers on her way to 17 points and 10 rebounds. Dallas’s Arike Ogunbowale, the league’s leading scorer, was 4 for 4 from the field and 8 for 8 from the free throw line in the first half, and she finished with 24 points and a career-high nine assists. Isabelle Harrison added 19 points for the Wings before leaving with a lower leg injury late in the game.
Thibault called much of the first-half defense “garbage.”
“We didn’t do anything differently except playing harder, playing more aggressively,” Thibault said of his team’s defense in the second half. “When you play with more effort, you play with concentration and contest shots and don’t make mistakes, you give yourself a chance to win. We played crazy for long stretches.”
Hines-Allen was unstoppable in the third quarter; her 17 points in the period dragged Washington back into the game, and she is the first player in Mystics history to post a 35-point, 12-rebound line. Washington also started getting stops after halftime, and Alaina Coates had her best game of the season, posting a career-high 11 points and seven rebounds.
The Mystics cut what had been a 23-point deficit to 76-65 going into the fourth quarter. And then the Wings couldn’t buy a basket in the final 10 minutes as Washington’s defense swarmed and Coates cleaned up the glass. A three-pointer from Kiara Leslie (10 points) gave the Mystics an 86-85 lead with 1:53 left, and a Hines-Allen hook sent the game to overtime as neither team scored in the final minute. Forward Ariel Atkins helped the comeback cause with 18 points and nine rebounds.
“I was just feeding off my teammates,” Hines-Allen said. “When we’re able to get stops on the defensive end and push in transition and get whatever we wanted, that was amazing. You just want to keep going at them, keep going at them. I went in, I don’t know, attack mode. Finishing, shooting — I don’t know; I was just hot.”
But the extra period looked much like the first half as Dallas rediscovered its shooting touch. Ogunbowale started setting up teammates, and a midrange jumper by Bella Alarie (National Cathedral) followed by a Tyasha Harris three-pointer gave the Wings a 96-89 lead and put the game away.
“It’s a testament of our youth and our stability,” Dallas Coach Brian Agler said. “When people start to make a run on you, we’ve got to have a group of people on the floor and leadership that gets our team together to make defensive stops. ... That’s one of many things we’ve got to get better at.”
Washington reserves Kiara Leslie (10 points), Sug Sutton and Coates were on the floor for extended minutes during the comeback and in overtime as starters Leilani Mitchell, Hawkins and Stella Johnson sat. Thibault said he was sending a message about the right and wrong ways to play. Sutton was on the court for a career-high 24:43, and Friday’s game was the most Coates has played in a Mystics jersey (22:20).
“There’s some people who are going to be on a shorter rope if they aren’t playing a little bit better,” Thibault said. “If you want to be a part of the group that’s on the floor, then we need a better all-around game.”