ATLANTA — Ariel Atkins knows the deal as she quietly grinds away. The Washington Mystics guard will make her second consecutive WNBA All-Star Game appearance Sunday as the league’s biggest stars gather in Chicago, but it won’t be because she was voted in by the fans. Their attention will be focused on others even though Atkins won an Olympic gold medal, earned a place on four straight all-defensive teams and was voted onto the all-star team by the coaches after playing in the game last year as a member of Team USA.
“I think respect, more than anything, is kind of top tier for me,” Atkins said before the Mystics’ 85-66 win over the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday to close the first half of the season. “I mean, you would love to be the most marketed and the most X, Y, Z and all that type of things, but if you get respect from coaches in the league, that’s pretty dope to me.”
Atkins helped the Mystics (14-10) cruise into the break with 10 points in 26 minutes, adding her usual lockdown defense. Although she struggled with foul trouble and with her shot — she was 2 for 7 from the field — she came in against the Dream (10-12) averaging 16.2 points in her previous five games and shooting a combined 57.1 percent in the past two. She credited the uptick in production to the evolution of the offense.
Although the Mystics came into the night ranked ninth in points per game, the ball is moving more from side to side, which is opening up more opportunities for the offense. Atkins said that has allowed teammates to find her for open shots instead of forcing her to create off the dribble.
“Part of it, I think she’s had a little more rest time,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “Tried to cut her minutes a little bit. I probably rested her too long in the first half [against Connecticut on Sunday]. I might have taken a rhythm from her.”
Atkins has been more outspoken than ever this season as the 25-year-old gets more comfortable with her expanding role. The marketing — and all-star fan votes — may not be there yet, but the on-court acknowledgments are most important to her.
“Any encouragement in the W is huge to me,” Atkins said. “It’s a young league, and it’s built on the back of trailblazers and amazing women. So anytime I get to have my name next to one of theirs is — I don’t even know if I can put that into words.”
Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ win:
The Mystics improved to 4-0 against Atlanta on the season and have won six straight and 12 of the past 13 matchups against the Dream.
The Dream started fast, taking a 12-4 lead, but the Mystics closed the second quarter on a 9-0 run to grab a 41-36 halftime lead. The visitors never trailed in the second half.
Elena Delle Donne was dominant, posting a season-high 26 points on 10-for-17 shooting, to go with eight rebounds. Natasha Cloud finished with 13 points and four assists. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored 12 points off the bench, and Myisha Hines-Allen totaled 14 points and six rebounds.
“We have such a solid team,” Delle Donne said. “We’ve got really good scorers, and we know that no one really has to force much. You can always find that next person and knock the shot down. So it’s fun to play in an offense like that. It’s taken a little bit of time for us to feel that out and learn what each other like. But it’s starting to flow much better. We’re starting to trust in one another. We’re starting to learn that we don’t have to force much and we can get to the next side or the next person.”
The Dream shot 41.9 percent from the field.
The Mystics played a WNBA-high 24 games before the all-star break, leaving 12 in the final month of play. Thibault expects to use the coming days off for more practice time and to get players more rest.
Delle Donne is expected to play all but a few games down the stretch, and the team will take a mini-vacation from July 22 to 24 around the Commissioner’s Cup, when it has six days between games. Seven of the Mystics’ final 10 games are at home.
“If we take advantage of it, the schedule comes back to help us,” Thibault said.
Thibault said Alysha Clark is no longer on a minutes restriction, but he keeps a close eye on her. The Mystics have monitored Clark throughout the season after she returned from a foot injury that kept her out of 2021. Thibault said he’s watching everyone’s minutes closely because of the abundance of games during the first half of the season.
Atkins was named to the three-point contest on Thursday, along with Allie Quigley (Chicago Sky), Rhyne Howard (Atlanta Dream), Arike Ogunbowale (Dallas Wings), Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm) and Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces).