The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In a matchup overflowing with stars, the Sky slows down the Mystics

Sky 82, Mystics 73

Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne drives on Sky forward Candace Parker in the first quarter Sunday. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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The star power and championship experience at Entertainment and Sports Arena on Sunday afternoon were impressive during a nationally televised showdown featuring the winners of two of the past three WNBA titles. The Chicago Sky arrived as the defending champ, and the Washington Mystics still have several major pieces from their 2019 title team.

There was a two-time MVP on both sides: Elena Delle Donne and Candace Parker. The Sky has a pair of WNBA Finals MVPs in Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman; Copper was traded from Washington to Chicago in a deal for Delle Donne in 2017, and Meesseman was the Finals MVP for the Mystics two years later.

As the loaded rosters met for the first time this season, the Sky looked the part of reigning champion during an 82-73 win in which the Mystics floundered offensively.

“That was pretty ugly,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “I don’t have a lot of good things to say. Our offense is just not smooth at all right now. We didn’t have a good shooting night. We didn’t recognize sometimes how we were being played, necessarily. Some of our turnovers in the first half, we threw the ball into a crowd. ... That was a good game to get some lessons from, too.”

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Parker became the third player in WNBA history with multiple triple-doubles and the first with more than one in the regular season. She finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Delle Donne countered with 17 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a blocked shot.

During one third-quarter sequence, Delle Donne made a three-pointer in Parker’s face, then buried another on the next possession to give Washington the lead. Parker responded with a three-pointer of her own to snatch the advantage back for Chicago.

Copper made her season debut after returning from overseas and posted 12 points and four rebounds as the Sky shot 54 percent. Ariel Atkins scored a game-high 20 for the Mystics, and Natasha Cloud had 10 assists.

The Mystics (5-2) shot just 37.5 percent but used a 13-7 run in the third quarter to take a 55-53 lead. The Sky (3-2) closed the quarter with an 8-0 stretch that expanded to 21-5 in the fourth. Washington never got closer than seven points the rest of the way. Delle Donne said the defense got disjointed, which slowed the Mystics’ offense.

There’s going to be some games where shots don’t fall,” Delle Donne said. “It’s just not allowing each of us to get into our own heads and being on our own islands and not still playing through it and playing together.

“I think that was probably the biggest issue, just kind of all of us being like, ‘Oh, God, I’m missing shots.’ And then it turns into playing too much one-on-one. ... When you do that with a team of their caliber, with their length, with their skill set, it’s not going to be pretty.”

Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ loss:

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Welcome back

Meesseman returned to D.C. with another WNBA team for the first time. The 2013 draft pick sat out 2021 amid national team obligations in Belgium and then signed with the Sky in the offseason. The Mystics’ Myisha Hines-Allen took her out to eat Saturday, and those two and Atkins had a group hug after the game.

Meesseman joked that Hines-Allen’s taste in food has improved; Hines-Allen found her in a hallway postgame to challenge that assertion in a spur-of-the moment faux interview. Meesseman finished with 11 points and four rebounds; she made a jumper to give Chicago an 80-71 lead with 38.9 seconds remaining and essentially put the game away.

It’s been new,” Meesseman said of playing in Chicago. “I had to step a little bit out of my comfort zone. That’s what it was for — prove [to] myself as a person. And it’s been good so far.”

Bench struggles

The Mystics’ reserve unit has been one of their strong points, but it struggled Sunday. The bench scored 11 points against the Sky, with nine coming from Elizabeth Williams. Thibault said his substitution patterns didn’t feel good, either.

We’ve gotten spoiled by them a little bit,” he said. “Tonight it didn’t work.”

Lineup shuffle

Mystics rookie Shakira Austin (14 points, five rebounds, three assists) made her second straight start and her third of the season. Her previous two starts came on scheduled days off for Delle Donne, but this time they started side-by-side.

Hines-Allen moved to the bench and was held scoreless in 11 minutes. Thibault said she’s struggling to find her rhythm and thinks a quadriceps contusion is still bothering her.

Kennedy Burke (nine points, six rebounds) got her first start with Washington as Alysha Clark (foot) had a scheduled rest day.