The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kennedy Burke keeps contributing, but the Mystics can’t solve the Sun

What to know from Washington’s 79-71 road loss

The Mystics' Kennedy Burke, pictured in a game against Atlanta earlier this month, had 13 points in Saturday's loss at Connecticut. (Terrance Williams for The Washington Post)
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UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Washington Mystics Coach Mike Thibault was thrilled to claim Kennedy Burke off waivers on the day the WNBA season started. What seemed to be a simple addition to help the team’s depth turned out to be so much more.

Burke was in the starting lineup again and tied for the team high with 13 points during Saturday night’s 79-71 loss to the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. A notable segment of Mystics fans had hoped the team would retain University of Maryland favorite Katie Benzan, an undrafted rookie, but Burke has done a bit of everything since returning from playing overseas. The 6-foot-1 wing entered Saturday’s game averaging career highs in points (9.0), rebounds (2.0) and steals (1.5). She added three rebounds, three steals and an assist against the Sun.

“From the first time she played with us … she was very aggressive,” Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins said. “She just got in and fit in where she could, and she hasn’t backed down. She’s a competitor, and she’s going to give her all every night. And she has a lot of confidence — I know that.”

The versatility of Burke’s game is what Thibault loves. She can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, or she can knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers from the perimeter. On defense, she can defend every position but center. There has been no hesitation to Burke’s game; she has been energetic and aggressive while fitting in seamlessly.

The Mystics’ offense was bogged down for much of Saturday’s game, and it was Burke who came through with timely baskets to keep them in the mix. Her second-quarter three-pointer ended an 11-0 run and cut the Sun’s lead to 29-26. Burke also buried two three-pointers during an 8-3 third-quarter run that gave Washington (6-3) a 47-46 lead.

The Sun (6-2) controlled most of the game as the Mystics shot 40.0 percent, but Connecticut never led by double digits. After Washington used a 17-5 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters to grab a 66-62 lead, the Sun used a 15-2 stretch to take a nine-point edge that the visitors never recovered from.

“We made four really bad defensive mistakes on coverage that we just didn’t run right,” Thibault said of that final run by the Sun. “And we called a timeout and still didn’t run it right. … We started out the first quarter pretty well, but to end up shooting 40 percent against a good team, that’s hard.”

Ariel Atkins has gone from all-star and Olympian to Mystics cornerstone

The Sun was led by DeWanna Bonner (14 points, seven rebounds), Alyssa Thomas (14 points, 10 rebounds), Courtney Williams (14 points, seven assists) and Brionna Jones (13 points, eight rebounds). Ariel Atkins had 13 points for the Mystics, and Elizabeth Williams added 12 points and two blocks.

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

On Griner

Burke and Elizabeth Williams used their postgame media session to speak up for Brittney Griner, who remains wrongfully detained in Russia, according to the U.S. State Department. She was taken into custody Feb. 17.

The Mystics players read a statement instead of discussing Saturday’s game and brought attention to a petition to bring Griner home that involves the Women’s National Basketball Players Association.

“Brittney Griner is our teammate, our friend and our sister,” Williams said. “She’s a record breaker, a gold medalist, a wife, a daughter, a champion, a role model, an all-star and so much more. Right now, BG’s an American citizen who’s been wrongfully detained in Russia for 100 days. That’s 144,000 minutes. Anyone who’s followed us knows the power of the 144. We know that speaking up together as a collective is game-, life- and world-changing.”

“To our sisters, brothers and colleagues in professional sports, sign the petition, hold your own media blackout. Please help us reach the White House,” Burke said. “To athletes of any age, ability, level, team, sport or country — this is our teammate, a member of our global sports community. We need to stand up and stand together to call for her release. Speak up. Speak out. And do not stop until BG is home.”

Missing in action

Both teams were shorthanded amid issues with the WNBA’s coronavirus health and safety protocols. The Mystics were without starting forward Alysha Clark, who began showing symptoms Thursday and was held out of practice.

The Sun was missing head coach Curt Miller and assistant Brandi Poole. That left assistant Chris Koclanes as the only coach available, so he ran the show. Connecticut also was without forward Joyner Holmes.

Delle Donne’s schedule

The Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne also sat out, but her absence was another load management decision. The Mystics continue to be careful with her back, which underwent a pair of surgeries and kept her out of all but three games over the previous two seasons.

The two-time MVP is slated to play Tuesday at the Indiana Fever and also is set to be in the lineup at home Friday against the visiting New York Liberty. The Mystics haven’t decided on the plan for the game at Chicago on June 5.

Bench mob

The positive to all of the lineup changes and players moving in and out of action is that the Washington reserves have had plenty of opportunities. Williams had her best game with the Mystics on Saturday, and Rui Machida had a pair of highlight-reel passes and made a three-pointer. Hawkins saw her shots start to fall, making 3 of 6, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had some good moments.

Thibault is still tinkering with combinations but said the strength of this team is its depth.