“You know, at some point we have to decide who we’re going to be, who we’re going to reflect on a night-in, night-out basis,” Mystics center Tina Charles said. “The team that came versus New York was not the team that was present today.”
“They came out hungry. They came out with all the energy, as we did versus New York.”
Charles continued her stellar play after coming two points shy of a career high against the Liberty, her former team. Without Elena Delle Donne and, before Sunday, Myisha Hines-Allen, Charles has carried the offense; she scored a game-high 31 points two days after dropping 34. She also grabbed nine rebounds.
Ariel Atkins scored 16 points on 5-for-12 shooting, and Erica McCall had 10 points and nine rebounds. Hines-Allen was 0 for 6 in 15 minutes during her season debut after returning from playing overseas.
Washington seemed to have found its groove against New York after ranking last in the league in points per game, field goal percentage and three-point percentage through two games. The offense regressed Sunday, when the Mystics shot just 38.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from behind the arc and scored just 13 points in a decisive third quarter.
Indiana (1-4) leaned on its frontcourt early and often, and Washington never quite had an answer as the Fever scored 42 points in the paint and shot 51.6 percent from the field to go with 26 assists. Center Teaira McCowan and forward Jessica Breland each finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. In the backcourt, Kelsey Mitchell scored 18 and Danielle Robinson added 13.
Washington even mixed in some zone defense in an attempt to slow Indiana down, but the Fever figured that out, too.
“For lack of a better term, they kind of put us on our heels a little bit,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “McCowan was getting it so deep in the paint, we start overreacting to some things, and then they were able to start getting other people involved.
“I told our players at halftime: ‘We’re not going to grow. We’re not going to be bigger than we are right now. So we have to take advantage of the things that are good for us.’ ”
Atkins added: “We just have to find a way to get stops. … I mean, it’s tough to explain because you really do just have to get down and get stops.”
The Mystics closed the first half on a 15-6 run to cut its deficit to 42-39. They quickly took the lead in the third quarter — their first of the day at 45-44 — on a three-pointer by Charles. But it was short-lived. The Fever answered with a 25-7 run to finish the third quarter ahead 69-52 as the Mystics’ defense gave up bucket after bucket, including three and-one opportunities. Washington never got closer than eight points in the fourth quarter.
The roster continues to take shape with Hines-Allen, a second-team all-WNBA selection in 2020, officially cleared off the league’s quarantine protocol Saturday night and Sydney Wiese playing the most minutes of any reserve Sunday after being acquired from Los Angeles just 10 days earlier.
A slow start to the season was expected with so much roster turnover from last season and Delle Donne still rehabbing from a pair of back surgeries.
The Mystics face the Fever again in Indianapolis on Tuesday.
“I think that’s the theme of the beginning of a season,” Wiese said. “You’re trying to find your identity as a group, trying to see what works on both ends of the floor. And it’s a little bit of trial and error. And I know … we got a lot of new bodies, myself included. But this organization has history and tradition of greatness. And I think we’re trying to fit ourselves into that, find our identity as a group.
“It would be ideal to learn these lessons, step into that identity through wins. But sometimes losing is the only way and the best way to learn lessons and to really hit the point home of what we’ve got to do better and be better at as a group. We know what we want to be, who we want to be. We’ve just got to make sure we bring that out of each other every single day.”
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